Facts From Fiction

No Capital Punishment for Apostasy in Islam

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Azhar Goraya, Mexico

Executive Summary

Many Muslims today accept the validity of the death punishment for apostasy (Pew Forum). Most of the classical jurists (with a few notable exceptions) of the four schools of Sunni Jurisprudence, as well as the Shia, believed that apostasy merited the death sentence. Modern Sunni scholarship has in some cases allowed for apostasy, but without the license to speak out or question Muslim beliefs.

The viewpoint of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, based on the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Ahadith, is that there is no earthly punishment for apostasy – certainly not death. 

Apostasy means voluntary recantation of Islam through a verbal declaration. A declaration of faith is necessary for someone to be considered a Muslim. So too is a verbal recantation necessary to renounce Islam, and to be considered an apostate by others. No one can declare another Muslim an apostate of their own accord.

There are three sources of Islamic information. In order of the most authentic, there is the Holy Qur’an, the Sunnah (practice of the Holy Prophet (sa)) and the Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)). Any ambiguous tradition must be referred to the Holy Qur’an for its true interpretation. 

In the case of apostasy, the Holy Qur’an is clear that freedom of religion is a fundamental right of every individual (2:257). Compelling others to accept any faith is attributed to the enemies of religion (19:47). The responsibility of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) was never to force or compel people to stay in the religion of Islam on pain of death; rather, only to convey the message of Islam to them (10:109). Moreover, the death penalty for apostasy would encourage hypocrisy, the worst of sins (4:146) within the Muslims rather than fostering a society of sincere believers. The Qur’an declares that there is complete freedom for all people – apostates or otherwise – to engage in respectful religious dialogue with Muslims (2:112). There is no verse in the Holy Qur’an that institutes any worldly punishment for apostasy, even though the Qur’an has discussed apostasy in detail. The Qur’an mentions the possibility of an apostate accepting and once again leaving the faith (4:138), something that would be impossible if apostasy amounted to certain death. 

Turning to the Sunnah, we find a number of occasions where apostates were not killed for leaving Islam. Many Muslims left Islam after disbelieving in the Isra, or night journey of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). At the treaty of Hudaibiya, the Prophet (sa) agreed to a clause that allowed apostates to return from Medina to Mecca unharmed. There were Jews who would mischievously accept the message of Islam in the morning and thereafter leave the faith in the evening. A prominent apostate, Abdullah bin abi Sarh, was not killed, even though he was presented before the Prophet Muhammad (sa) at the victory of Mecca.

Coming to the ahadith, we find that there are certain narrations that are sometimes ambiguous and are at times understood as supporting the death penalty for apostasy. For example, there is a hadith which states, ‘kill him who changes his faith’, and another which states, ‘kill him who leaves his faith and separates himself from the community’. Being a tertiary source of Islamic knowledge, these ahadith cannot be understood in a way which run counter to the Qur’an. 

Historically, these ahadith were stated during the time of religious, theological war between the Muslims and the non-believers before the signing of the treaty of Hudaibiya. Leaving Islam and the community of Muslims during this time was tantamount to abandonment of the army and was considered high treason during war, which was (and even today, in many cases still is) punishable by death. Outside the years of this religious war, the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) demonstrates that apostates were not killed.

A separate term was not used for treason because it was not necessary at the time. Moreover, Islamic legal theory posits that the same crime in view of the extenuating circumstances can merit different punishments. Therefore, apostasy during a religious war with non-believers, and apostasy outside of such a war, within the Islamic legal paradigm, would be seen and dealt with differently.

During the time of the successors of the Prophet Muhammad (sa), we find the same adherence to the above principles. During the time of Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra), the first successor, most of Arabia left Islam and many raised arms against the Islamic state. Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) fought against them because of their armed and vicious rebellion, not simply because they had merely left Islam. 

The writings of the Promised Messiah (as) provide us guidance on this manner. He spoke at length about apostasy during British India in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. He never stated that such apostates should be killed, rather, he taught the importance of replying to their allegations against Islam and showing them sympathy and compassion. After him, his successors and other scholars of the Jama’at have written extensively about how apostasy does not merit any worldly punishment. 

Table of Contents

Islamic Criminal Law

Acceptance of Death Penalty for Apostasy by a Large Number of Muslims Worldwide

The Schools of Classical Islamic Jurisprudence Accept the Death Penalty for Apostasy

Not All Classical Scholars in Agreement about the Death Penalty for Apostasy

Modern Reinterpretation

How to Define ‘Apostasy’

Irtidaad (Apostasy) is Declared According to the Outer, and Not the Inner Condition

Definition of Irtidaad According to the Holy Qur’an

Definition of Islam and Muslim

Definition of an Apostate

Do Sins and Wrongdoings Amount to Apostasy?

Punishment for Apostasy in Islam?

The Holy Qur’an and Freedom of Religion

Compulsion in Faith – Characteristic of the Enemies of the Prophets

The Responsibility of the Prophet was only to Convey the Message

Religious Dialogue and Freedom to Preach

No Verse in the Qur’an Declares the Death Penalty for Apostasy

Possibility of Repentance after Apostasy

Death for Apostasy would Promote Hypocrisy

The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

No Person was Killed for Simple Apostasy During the Life of the Holy Prophet (sa)

Muslims Left Islam after the Isra (Night Journey)

The Treaty of Hudaibiya

The Jews: Accepted Islam in the Morning and Left in the Evening

A Bedouin Who Left Medina

Abdullah bin Abi Sarh – An Apostate Forgiven

Forgiveness not Permissible in Cases of Crimes with Punishments Stipulated in the Holy Qur’an (Hudud)

Apostates Ordered to be Killed had Committed Major Crimes that Demanded the Capital Punishment

The Ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

The Hadith: Death for Who Leaves the Faith (Din) and Separates Himself from the Community (Jama’at)

‘This is the Judgement of Allah and His Messenger’

‘Strike the Neck of He Who Changes His Religion’

The Narration of Ibn-e-Abbas (ra): ‘Kill Him Who Changes His Faith’

Analysis of the Chain of Narrators (Rawayat)

Criticism of the Chain of Narrators in Bukhari that Includes ‘Ikramah

The same Hadith Narrated without ‘Ikramah

Hadhrat Ibn-e-Abbas (ra)

Analysis of the Content (Darayat)

Linguistic Analysis

Historical Analysis

The Hadith of Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) vs. Other Narrations

Other Evidence of Degrees of Seriousness for the Same Crime

Was Islam an Absolute Theocracy During the Time of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)?

Apostasy in Today’s World

Interpretation of the Sahabah and Khulafa

Situation in Arabia After the Death of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

Hadhrat Umar (ra) – Preferred Imprisonment to Death

The Promised Messiah (as) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on Apostasy

Conclusion

Further Reading

There are many Muslims who believe that anybody who leaves Islam should be killed. At most, they state that the apostate should be given a few days after leaving the faith to reconsider their decision. Afterwards, if they don’t repent, they should be killed. 

This is a false belief. 

The Holy Qur’an and Sunnah (practice of the Holy Prophet (sa)) do not state that the punishment for apostasy is death. In fact, capital punishment for apostasy is prohibited. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is firmly against any law or interpretation of Islam that calls for apostates to be killed. 

Islamic Criminal Law

Islamic criminal law (Fiqah Al-Uqubaat) has two generally accepted categories:

  1. Hudud – those legal punishments that have been defined in the Qur’an and Hadith
  2. Tazir – crimes whose punishment is not specified in the Qur’an and Hadith and are left at the discretion of the local authorities (known as the Ulul Amar in Islamic terminology)

Some add Qisas (crimes which demand equal retaliation) as a third category. 

Many Muslims believe that apostasy (Ridda) is a criminal offense in the Islamic Shariah (law), which is punishable under the category of Hudud. They allege that the punishment for apostasy is death. They base their belief on the various edicts given to this effect by multiple schools of jurisprudence in Islam.

Acceptance of Death Penalty for Apostasy by a Large Number of Muslims Worldwide

According to a research report conducted by the Pew Forum in 2013, alarmingly high numbers of Muslims in many countries support the death penalty for apostasy. The report states:

‘In six of the 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis, at least half of those who favor making Islamic law the official law also support executing apostates.’

About the adoption of Sharia law, the report states:

‘In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia).

In sub-Saharan Africa, at least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they favor making sharia the official law of the land, including more than seven-in-ten in Niger (86%), Djibouti (82%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (74%) and Nigeria (71%).

Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Only in Lebanon does opinion lean in the opposite direction: 29% of Lebanese Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land, while 66% oppose it.’

Regarding those that favour the implementation of Sharia law, the report states:

‘Taking the life of those who abandon Islam is most widely supported in Egypt (86%) and Jordan (82%). Roughly two-thirds who want sharia to be the law of the land also back this penalty in the Palestinian territories (66%). In the other countries surveyed in the Middle East-North Africa region, fewer than half take this view.

In the South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, strong majorities of those who favor making Islamic law the official law of the land also approve of executing apostates (79% and 76%, respectively). However, in Bangladesh far fewer (44%) share this view.

A majority of Malaysian Muslims (62%) who want to see sharia as their country’s official law also support taking the lives of those who convert to other faiths. But fewer take this position in neighboring Thailand (27%) and Indonesia (18%).’ [1]

The large number of Muslims who accept the death penalty for apostasy demonstrates that this is a deeply held belief. 

The Schools of Classical Islamic Jurisprudence Accept the Death Penalty for Apostasy

All four schools of Sunni jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali) are practically unanimous that the penalty for apostasy is death. The Hanafis, Shafis and Malikis state that the apostate should be granted up to three days to change his mind, after which he should be killed. The Hanbalis are divided in opinion – some state that the apostate should be given three days to reconsider his apostasy, whereas others state that no time should be given. [2] The Shiíte schools of thought are also unanimous in that the punishment for apostasy is death. [3]

These opinions are held based on certain verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith. For example, there is a famous narration, ‘Kill him who changes his faith’, cited in many authentic compilations, that many jurists use in their analysis of the punishment for apostasy.

In short, their conclusion that apostasy merits death is based on a framework of Islam being primarily a political and social organizing force and not a system primarily based on individual belief. The basic idea shared amongst the jurists is that apostasy would weaken the base of a Muslim society – acceptance of Islam. Apostasy thus threatens the root of the social fabric of Muslim society, and the punishment must be severe in the interest of preserving society.

Islam is a complete code of life and has instructions about social organization. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to state that simple apostasy would be a threat to that social organization. Moreover, the clear edicts of the Qur’an and Sunnah tell us that peacefully leaving the faith carries no worldly punishment.

Not All Classical Scholars in Agreement about the Death Penalty for Apostasy

It would be incorrect to state that there was a complete consensus in all eras of Islamic history amongst all jurists about the death penalty for apostasy. There were several eminent jurists that were against the idea that apostasy merited death, most notably amongst the Hanafi school of jurisprudence.

Their arguments derived from the popular opinion that a female apostate was not to be killed. Their interpretations in this regard were based primarily on the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) which forbade the killing of women. For example:

‘Yahya related to me from Malik from Nafi from Ibn Umar that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saw the corpse of a woman who had been slain in one of the raids, and he disapproved of it and forbade the killing of women and children.’ [4]

They reasoned that a female could not join enemy ranks as a soldier, and thus there was no reason for her to be killed. [5] 

Thus, the popularly held idea that the punishment for apostasy was death, was actually not for leaving Islam but for active rebellion and war against the Islamic state, known as Harb. According to the Qur’an, it is Harb, and not apostasy, that carries a punishment of death, crucifixion, amputationor exile:

إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

[5:34] The reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land is only this that they be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on alternate sides, or they be expelled from the land. That shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a great punishment;

Eminent jurists, such as Allama Al-Marghinani (593 AH), Imam Ibnul Humam (681 AH) and Allama Al-Sarkhasi (450 AH) were of this opinion. [6]

Ibn-e-Qayyim (700 AH), of the Hanbali school of thought, wrote:

‘As for the punishment of execution, it is reserved for the greatest offenses such as those against life, so that its punishment is of similar kind, such as the offense against the religion by assaulting it and apostatizing from it. This offense is the first to be punished by execution in order to restrain the aggression of the criminal by every punishment.’ [7]

Modern Reinterpretation

Some modern scholars have reinterpreted this long-held belief and have taken up the position of the previously mentioned scholars who opposed the death penalty for simple apostasy.

They propose that there is a difference between political and personal apostasy. Political apostasy means to renounce Islam and actively oppose the Islamic state. This type of apostasy (which is better classified as rebellion against the state) carries the death sentence. 

Personal apostasy means to simply leave the religion of Islam without rebelling or declaring war against the state. In this case, it is prohibited to speak out against Islamic teachings after leaving Islam. Speaking out against Islam would result in death.  

Nevertheless, this is a minority position, and still carries certain faults. It fundamentally curbs freedom of religion and consciousness, as apostates are not allowed to openly preach or profess their doctrines. The reinterpretation has thus only allowed for silent dissention with Islamic doctrine.

Nevertheless, as will be shown, the sources of Islam do not support death for simple apostasy; nor do they limit freedom of religion or respectful religious dialogue, even with apostates.

How to Define ‘Apostasy’

Apostasy, known as ارتداد Irtidaad, can be defined simply as leaving Islam. Nevertheless, there are several important questions that need to be answered before an apostate, known as a مرتد murtad, can be identified.

Many times, unscrupulous scholars and lay Muslims wrongly accuse other Muslims of being apostates if they do not agree with or follow their interpretation of Islam. This is not only incorrect, but dangerous as well, as many Muslims believe that apostasy carries the death penalty. Therefore, before moving on, it would be useful to precisely define the terms: ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’ and ‘apostate’. 

Irtidaad (Apostasy) is Declared According to the Outer, and Not the Inner Condition

Firstly, it is important to note that the human interpretation of the Shariah (Islamic law) and its legal application in regards to edicts deals with only the outer or demonstrated form of beliefs and actions. The inner reality of a person is left to Allah. This is because man has no insight into the inner condition of a person’s heart, which is the realm of God the All-Knowing. 

Ibn-e-Hajar, a well-known Islamic scholar, writes in his commentary on Sahih Bukhari:

‘And all of them [the Jurists] are unanimous in that the edicts about worldly matters are only applicable on the outer form and reality of actions, and the hidden realities are left to Allah. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) told Usama [bin Zaid] ‘Nay, did you cut open his heart [to see if he said the shahadah sincerely]?’, and he said to the person who travelled to kill a man, ‘did he not pray?’ he replied, ‘yes’. The Prophet (sa) said, ‘these are the people whose killing has been forbidden’, and it will soon be narrated through different chains of narrators the hadith of Abu Saeed, that when Khalid bin Waleed asked permission to kill the person who objected to how the spoils were divided, he said ‘how many a worshipper prays verbally but not from his heart’, upon which the Prophet Muhammad (sa) stated, ‘I have not been commanded that I peer into the recesses of the hearts of men’, narrated by Muslim, and there are many hadith of this nature…’ [8]

Therefore, whether someone is a true believer, disbeliever, hypocrite or sinner is left to the knowledge of Allah and will be disclosed on the Day of Judgement. No final decree can be passed about the condition of the heart of a person, nor how Allah will ultimately deal with someone on the Day of Judgement.

Thus, apostasy can never be defined in terms of the condition of someone’s heart, rather to that which is apparent from their declarations and in certain limited occasions, their actions.

Definition of Irtidaad According to the Holy Qur’an

Irtidaad means to turn back. It has been used in the Holy Qur’an in the sense of returning to disbelief after once having accepted Islam:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَن يَرْتَدَّ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِي اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ يُحِبُّهُمْ وَيُحِبُّونَهُ أَذِلَّةٍ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَعِزَّةٍ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ يُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلَا يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لَائِمٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ فَضْلُ اللهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَاللهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

[5:55] O ye who believe! whoso among you turns back from his religion, then let it be known that in his stead Allah will soon bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him, and who will be kind and humble towards believers, hard and firm against disbelievers. They will strive in the cause of Allah and will not fear the reproach of a faultfinder. That is Allah’s grace; He bestows it upon whomsoever He pleases; and Allah is Bountiful, All- Knowing.

Imam Raghib has defined the term in the following way:

والارْتِدَادُ والرِّدَّةُ: الرّجوع في الطّريق الذي جاء منه، لكن الرّدّة تختصّ بالكفر، والارتداد يستعمل فيه وفي غيره

Al-Irtidaad and Ar-Riddatu: To return to a path that one has come from, but Ar-Riddatu is specifically used for Kufar (disbelief), while Al-Irtidaad is used for it as well as other things. [9]

If Irtidaad (apostasy) means to renounce Islam, then it is necessary to have a precise definition of what Islam is and who a Muslim is before we can identify how one could renounce Islam.

Definition of Islam and Muslim

In the simple theological sense, Islam is the name of the religion that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (sa), and a Muslim is a follower of the religion of Islam. 

Islam is a compendium of various beliefs and actions, all of which combine to complete it as a faith. The same goes for the term Muslim. The question is as to whether there is a baseline for how to outwardly identify someone as a Muslim. 

The Holy Prophet (sa) provided a concise definition. He stated that every person who self-identifies as a Muslim is to be accepted as a Muslim:

‘Narrated Hudhaifa (ra):

The Prophet (sa) said (to us), ‘List the names of those people who have announced that they are Muslims.’So, we listed one thousand and five hundred men. Then we wondered, ‘Should we be afraid (of infidels) although we are one thousand and five hundred in number?’ No doubt, we witnessed ourselves being afflicted with such bad trials that one would have to offer the prayer alone in fear.’ [10]

Therefore, to be considered a Muslim, nothing is required other than self-identification. This self-identification is through the declaration of faith, which is the only requirement for entering into Islam. The words of the declaration of faith are as follows: ‘There is none worthy of worship of Allah, and Muhammad (sa) is His messenger’. 

During times of religious war, when there was a risk of enemy soldiers masquerading as Muslims in order to infiltrate the Muslim ranks, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) also identified a few basic actions by which a self-declaring Muslim could be confirmed as being a Muslim. This was to avoid the accidental killing of a Muslim thinking that he was a spy. It is narrated:

‘Narrated Anas bin Malik (ra):

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said, ‘Whoever prays like us and faces our Qibla and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under Allah’s and His Apostle’s protection. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His protection.”’ [11]

Definition of an Apostate

Self-identification as a Muslim is enough to be considered a Muslim by others.

In the same fashion, self-proclamation and verbal recantation of Islam is necessary to be considered an apostate. That is, a person must verbally declare that they no longer identify themselves as a Muslim.

Do Sins and Wrongdoings Amount to Apostasy?

One who proclaims to be a Muslim is liable to commit errors and sins (hence the teachings about seeking forgiveness and repentance in Islam). He may also hold certain beliefs that can be contrary to Islam. Nevertheless, he cannot be declared an apostate by others if he still proclaims himself a Muslim. Though he may be wrong in actions and beliefs, he maintains a certain level of sincerity in his error. He has not broken his fundamental link to Islam – belief in Allah and His messenger. 

It is thus not correct for anyone to declare a self-proclaiming Muslim as an apostate. Apostasy must be confirmed by the person himself. 

Punishment for Apostasy in Islam?

Now that apostasy has been defined, the question arises as to whether Islam has identified a worldly punishment for apostasy. There are three basic sources of Islamic knowledge: the Holy Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Ahadith. According to all three, there is no worldly punishment for simple apostasy. 

The Holy Qur’an is the pre-eminent source of Islamic teachings. It is the word of Allah and contains a complete blueprint for all Islamic teachings. The Holy Qur’an has not instructed anywhere that there be a worldly punishment for apostasy. Rather, it establishes freedom of religion and reserves the punishment for apostasy to the Hereafter. 

The Holy Qur’an and Freedom of Religion

The Qur’an is categorically against compulsion in matters of religion. It says that even Allah does not compel anyone to believe in Him or follow His religion:

وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَٰكِن يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَلَتُسْأَلُنَّ عَمَّا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ  

[16:94] And if Allah had enforced His will, He would surely have made you all one people; but He lets go astray him who wishes it, and guides him who wishes it; and you shall surely be questioned concerning that which you have been doing.

Moreover, it guarantees freedom of religion for all:

لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ 

[2:257] There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ ۚ إِنَّا أَعْتَدْنَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ نَارًا أَحَاطَ بِهِمْ سُرَادِقُهَا ۚ وَإِن يَسْتَغِيثُوا يُغَاثُوا بِمَاءٍ كَالْمُهْلِ يَشْوِي الْوُجُوهَ ۚ بِئْسَ الشَّرَابُ وَسَاءَتْ مُرْتَفَقًا

[18:30] And say, ‘It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.’ Verily, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose flaming canopy shall enclose them. And if they cry for help, they will be helped with water like molten lead which will burn the faces. How dreadful the drink, and how evil is the Fire as a resting place!

Advocating for death for apostasy goes against this fundamental principle of freedom of belief.

Compulsion in Faith – Characteristic of the Enemies of the Prophets

The Qur’an attributes compulsion in matters of faith and the death penalty for leaving a religion to the enemies of the prophets. Azar, the relative of Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham) (as), threatened to stone him to death if he left idolatry:

قَالَ أَرَاغِبٌ أَنتَ عَنْ آلِهَتِي يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ ۖ لَئِن لَّمْ تَنتَهِ لَأَرْجُمَنَّكَ ۖ وَاهْجُرْنِي مَلِيًّا 

[19:47] He replied, ‘Dost thou turn away from my gods, O Abraham? If thou cease not, I shall surely stone you (to death). Now leave me alone for a long while.’

Pharaoh was a great enemy of the truth. He fancied himself as the only god of his people:

وَقَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ مَا عَلِمْتُ لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرِي فَأَوْقِدْ لِي يَا هَامَانُ عَلَى الطِّينِ فَاجْعَل لِّي صَرْحًا لَّعَلِّي أَطَّلِعُ إِلَىٰ إِلَٰهِ مُوسَىٰ وَإِنِّي لَأَظُنُّهُ مِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ

[28:39] And Pharaoh said, ‘O chiefs, I know of no God for you other than myself; so burn me bricks of clay, O Haman, and build me a tower, that I may have a look at the God of Moses, though I believe him to be one of the liars.’

He threatened the followers of Moses (as) with death, for the simple reason that they chose to follow Moses (as) without seeking his permission:

قَالَ آمَنتُمْ لَهُ قَبْلَ أَنْ آذَنَ لَكُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَكَبِيرُكُمُ الَّذِي عَلَّمَكُمُ السِّحْرَ ۖ فَلَأُقَطِّعَنَّ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ وَلَأُصَلِّبَنَّكُمْ فِي جُذُوعِ النَّخْلِ وَلَتَعْلَمُنَّ أَيُّنَا أَشَدُّ عَذَابًا وَأَبْقَىٰ

[20:72] Pharaoh said, ‘Do you believe in him before I give you leave? He must be your chief who has taught you magic. I will therefore surely cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and I will surely crucify you on the trunks of palm-trees; and you shall know which of us is severer and more abiding in punishment.’

Thus, those that would force someone to accept, or by extension remain within a religion, are guilty of following the attitude of the enemies of the prophets. 

The Responsibility of the Prophet was only to Convey the Message

The Qur’an tells us that the job of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) was merely to convey the message of Islam – not be a guardian over people in terms of policing their actions afterwards:

قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَكُمُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَمَنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا عَلَيْكُم بِوَكِيلٍ 

[10:109] Say, ‘O ye men, now has the truth come to you from your Lord. So whosoever follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own soul, and whosoever errs, errs only against it. And I am not a keeper over you.’

Religious Dialogue and Freedom to Preach

The Holy Qur’an has guaranteed the right of all people to indulge in the free exchange of ideas and engage in constructive and rigorous religious dialogue. In many cases, the Qur’an refers to the beliefs and actions of people of other religions. It encourages followers of other faiths to bring forth proofs in support of their ideologies and engage in dialogue:

وَقَالُوا لَن يَدْخُلَ الْجَنَّةَ إِلَّا مَن كَانَ هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ ۗ تِلْكَ أَمَانِيُّهُمْ ۗ قُلْ هَاتُوا بُرْهَانَكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

[2:112] And they say, ‘None shall ever enter Heaven unless he be a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their vain desires. Say, ‘Produce your proof, if you are truthful.’

أَمَّن يَبْدَأُ الْخَلْقَ ثُمَّ يُعِيدُهُ وَمَن يَرْزُقُكُم مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۗ أَإِلَٰهٌ مَّعَ اللَّهِ ۚ قُلْ هَاتُوا بُرْهَانَكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

[27:65] Or, Who originates creation, and then repeats it and Who provides for you from the heaven and the earth? Is there a God besides Allah? Say, ‘Bring forward your proof if you are truthful.’

أَمِ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِهِ آلِهَةً ۖ قُلْ هَاتُوا بُرْهَانَكُمْ ۖ هَٰذَا ذِكْرُ مَن مَّعِيَ وَذِكْرُ مَن قَبْلِي ۗ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ الْحَقَّ ۖ فَهُم مُّعْرِضُونَ

[21:25] Have they taken gods beside Him? Say, ‘Bring forth your proof. Here is the Book of those with me, and the Book of those before me.’ Nay, most of them know not the truth, and so they turn away.

It is inconceivable that this fundamental freedom of religion and invitation to dialogue would be annulled in the case of a former Muslim. To advocate for death instead of dialogue with former Muslims is tantamount to an admission of inability to answer their objections and reasons for renouncing Islam. It equally leads to the assumption that most Muslims are so weak in their understanding of Islam that any objection to their doctrines will prove fatal to their own adherence to the faith and perhaps result in the dissolution of an Islamic society. 

This runs against the claim of the Qur’an, which states that it is a complete book that is grounded upon solid reasoning and equal to any challenge to its precepts and teachings. Moreover, it also explains how the belief of Muslims is ‘written upon their hearts’ and how they are ‘helped by divine inspiration’:

أُولَٰئِكَ كَتَبَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَأَيَّدَهُم بِرُوحٍ مِّنْهُ

[58:23] …These are they in whose hearts Allah has inscribed true faith and whom He has strengthened with inspiration from Himself…

Therefore, the idea of the modern interpreters, that an apostate cannot criticize Islamic doctrines in a peaceful manner is false. A so-called Islamic society which is threatened by criticisms of its doctrines has deeper existential problems than those that an apostate might cause. The Qur’an guarantees dialogue with non-Muslims and makes no exception for former Muslims.

No Verse in the Qur’an Declares the Death Penalty for Apostasy

The taking of life is a serious matter, and therefore the Holy Qur’an has clearly mentioned crimes which call for the death penalty. For example, the death penalty is prescribed as a punishment for pre-meditated murder:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِصَاصُ فِي الْقَتْلَى ۖ الْحُرُّ بِالْحُرِّ وَالْعَبْدُ بِالْعَبْدِ وَالْأُنثَىٰ بِالْأُنثَىٰ ۚ فَمَنْ عُفِيَ لَهُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَيْءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَاءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَانٍ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۗ فَمَنِ اعْتَدَىٰ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَهُ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

[2:179] O ye who believe! Equitable retaliation in the matter of  the slain is prescribed for you: the free man for the free man, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if one is granted any remission by one’s brother, then pursuing the matter for the realization of the blood money shall be done with fairness and the murderer shall pay him the blood money in a handsome manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. And whoso transgresses thereafter, for him there shall be a grievous punishment.

The Qur’an has not mentioned that the death penalty should be given to apostates, even though it specifically mentions apostates in many verses. It condemns their action in many verses: 

مَن كَفَرَ بِاللهِ مِن بَعْدِ إِيمَانِهِ إِلَّا مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَٰكِن مَّن شَرَحَ بِالْكُفْرِ صَدْرًا فَعَلَيْهِمْ غَضَبٌ مِّنَ اللهِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمُ اسْتَحَبُّوا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا عَلَى الْآخِرَةِ وَأَنَّ اللهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ طَبَعَ اللهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ لَا جَرَمَ أَنَّهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ

[16:107] Whoso disbelieves in Allah after he has believed — save him who is forced thereto while his heart finds peace in the faith — but such as open their breasts to disbelief, on them is Allah’s wrath; and they shall have a severe punishment. 

[16:108] That is because they have preferred the present life to the Hereafter, and because Allah guides not the disbelieving people. 

[16:109] It is they on whose hearts and ears and eyes Allah has set a seal. And it is they who are the heedless. 

[16:110] Undoubtedly, it is they who will be the losers in the Hereafter. 

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ ارْتَدُّوا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِهِم مِّن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الْهُدَى ۙ الشَّيْطَانُ سَوَّلَ لَهُمْ وَأَمْلَىٰ لَهُمْ

[47:26] Surely, those who turn their backs after guidance has become manifest to them, Satan has seduced them, and holds out to them false hopes.

Nevertheless, in no place does it state that they should be killed for the simple act of apostasy.

On the contrary, the Qur’an is quite indifferent towards apostates, brushing them aside as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It is a small loss to the community of believers that God promises to quickly rectify by granting a community of believers in place of each apostate:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَن يَرْتَدَّ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِي اللهُ بِقَوْمٍ يُحِبُّهُمْ وَيُحِبُّونَهُ أَذِلَّةٍ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَعِزَّةٍ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ يُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلَا يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لَائِمٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ فَضْلُ اللهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَاللهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

[5:55] O ye who believe! Whoso among you turns back from his religion, then let it be known that in his stead Allah will soon bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him, and who will be kind and humble towards believers, hard and firm against disbelievers. They will strive in the cause of Allah and will not fear the reproach of a faultfinder. That is Allah’s grace; He bestows it upon whomsoever He pleases; and Allah is Bountiful, All- Knowing.

Possibility of Repentance after Apostasy

The Qur’an mentions the possibility of forgiveness and repentance for apostates:

كَيْفَ يَهْدِي اللهُ قَوْمًا كَفَرُوا بَعْدَ إِيمَانِهِمْ وَشَهِدُوا أَنَّ الرَّسُولَ حَقٌّ وَجَاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ ۚ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ أُولَٰئِكَ جَزَاؤُهُمْ أَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ لَعْنَةَ اللهِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا لَا يُخَفَّفُ عَنْهُمُ الْعَذَابُ وَلَا هُمْ يُنظَرُونَ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ وَأَصْلَحُوا فَإِنَّ اللهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

[3:87] How shall Allah guide a people who have disbelieved after believing and who had borne witness that the Messenger was true and to whom clear proofs had come? And Allah guides not the wrongdoing people. 

[3:88] Of such the reward is that on them shall be the curse of Allah and of angels and of men, all together. 

[3:89] They shall abide thereunder. Their punishment shall not be lightened nor shall they be reprieved; 

[3:90] Except those who repent thereafter and amend. And surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.

In one revealing verse, it states that there are people who will believe and disbelieve, then believe and disbelieve again:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ثُمَّ كَفَرُوا ثُمَّ آمَنُوا ثُمَّ كَفَرُوا ثُمَّ ازْدَادُوا كُفْرًا لَّمْ يَكُنِ اللهُ لِيَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ وَلَا لِيَهْدِيَهُمْ سَبِيلًا

[4:138] Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor will He guide them to the way.

Repentance would be impossible if they were to be killed, as would the idea of accepting and then leaving the faith many times over.

The Qur’an also does not impose any time limit on apostates to repent, as opposed to the interpretation of some Islamic scholars. Indeed, there is a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) that Allah accepts the repentance of a person right up to the end of his natural life:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لَيَقْبَلُ تَوْبَةَ الْعَبْدِ مَا لَمْ يُغَرْغِرْ

‘Allah accepts the repentance of His slave so long as the death rattle has not yet reached his throat.’ [12]

Death for Apostasy would Promote Hypocrisy

Islam condemns hypocrisy as a sin and warns of a punishment in hell for hypocrites:

الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ بَعْضُهُم مِّن بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمُنكَرِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَقْبِضُونَ أَيْدِيَهُمْ ۚ نَسُوا اللهَ فَنَسِيَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ وَعَدَ اللهُ الْمُنَافِقِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتِ وَالْكُفَّارَ نَارَ جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ۚ هِيَ حَسْبُهُمْ ۚ وَلَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُّقِيمٌ

[9:67] The hypocrites, men and women, are all connected one with another. They enjoin evil and forbid good, and keep their hands closed. They neglected Allah, so He has neglected them. Surely, it is the hypocrites who are the disobedient.

[9:68] Allah promises the hypocrites, men and women, and the disbelievers the fire of Hell, wherein they shall abide. It will suffice them. And Allah has cursed them. And they shall have a lasting punishment

It states that hypocrisy is the worst of sins, even worse than disbelief, and that it merits the greatest of punishments in the afterlife:

إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الْأَسْفَلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُمْ نَصِيرًا

[4:146] The hypocrites shall surely be in the lowest depth of the Fire; and thou shalt find no helper for them,

To compel people to pretend to be Muslims on pain of death is thus pushing them into hypocrisy, which is an even greater sin than simple disbelief. 

The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

After the Holy Qur’an, the most authentic source of Islamic teaching is the Sunnah, or actions of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). His life is an authoritative interpretation of the Qur’anic teachings. 

No Person was Killed for Simple Apostasy During the Life of the Holy Prophet (sa)

It is an established fact that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) did not have anyone killed for apostasy during his life. This demonstrates that there is no punishment for simple apostasy in Islam. Several instances of apostasy during his life that he did not punish with death are presented below.

Muslims Left Islam after the Isra (Night Journey)

It is narrated that a significant number of Muslims left Islam after professing disbelief in the Isra, or the spiritual overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). This night journey took place six months to a year prior to the Hijrah, or approximately 12 years after the beginning of his prophethood. 

The Holy Qur’an mentions the night journey in the following verse:

وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الرُّؤْيَا الَّتِي أَرَيْنَاكَ إِلَّا فِتْنَةً لِّلنَّاسِ

[17:61] …And We made not the vision which We showed thee but as a trial for men…

Imam Tabari states in his commentary:

‘Hasan stated: he was taken during the night to Bait-ul-Maqdas in Jerusalmen. He prayed there and Allah showed Him what He showed him from amongst his signs, then in the morning he awoke in Mecca. He informed them that during the night he had been taken to Bait-ul-Maqdas, so they said to him: ‘O Muhammad! What has happened to you! You spent the night there, and have spent the morning with us! Do you tell us you have come from Bait-ul-Maqdas?’ So they wondered about that, to the point that some of them left Islam.‘ [13]

Despite their apostasy, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) took no action against them.

The Treaty of Hudaibiya

In 6 Hijri, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) signed a peace treaty with the idolatrous Meccans known as the treaty of Hudaibiya. In it, he agreed to a clause that if anyone from the Muslims decided to leave them and join the Meccans that they would be free to do so:

‘Narrated Al-Bara’ bin ‘Azib (ra):

On the day of Hudaibiya, the Prophet (sa) made a peace treaty with the polytheists on three conditions: 
1. The Prophet (sa) would return to them any person from polytheists who came to join them. 
2. That the polytheists would not return any of the Muslims going to them, and 
3. The Prophet (sa) and his companions would come to Mecca the following year and would stay there for three days and would enter with their weapons in cases, e.g., swords, arrows, bows, etc.
Abu Jandal came hopping, his legs being chained, but the Prophet (sa) returned him to the polytheists.’ [14]

He would never have agreed to this clause if apostates were to be killed under Islamic law. It is unknown whether anyone took advantage of this clause, but there are other positive cases where apostates left Islam peacefully.

The Jews: Accepted Islam in the Morning and Left in the Evening

The Qur’an mentions that some Jews would encourage each other to accept Islam in the morning and leave it in the evening to dissuade people from accepting the faith:

وَقَالَت طَّائِفَةٌ مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ آمِنُوا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَجْهَ النَّهَارِ وَاكْفُرُوا آخِرَهُ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ 

[3:73] And a section of the People of the Book say, ‘Believe in that which has been revealed unto the believers, in the early part of day, and disbelieve in the latter part thereof; perchance they may return;

In his Tafseer Behrul Muheet, Abu Hayyan Al-Gharnati mentions that this was decided upon by twelve Jewish rabbis of Khaibar and Urainah:

‘Twelve rabbis from amongst the Jews of Khaibar and the town of Urainah  (decided to act upon this) and said to one another: enter into the faith of Muhammad (sa) in the beginning of the day by confessing faith by the tongue but not in actual beliefs, and disbelieve in the later part of the day.’ [15]

The Qur’an indicates that they acted upon this:

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ هَلْ تَنقِمُونَ مِنَّا إِلَّا أَنْ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلُ وَأَنَّ أَكْثَرَكُمْ فَاسِقُونَ قُلْ هَلْ أُنَبِّئُكُم بِشَرٍّ مِّن ذَٰلِكَ مَثُوبَةً عِندَ اللهِ ۚ مَن لَّعَنَهُ اللهُ وَغَضِبَ عَلَيْهِ وَجَعَلَ مِنْهُمُ الْقِرَدَةَ وَالْخَنَازِيرَ وَعَبَدَ الطَّاغُوتَ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ شَرٌّ مَّكَانًا وَأَضَلُّ عَن سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ وَإِذَا جَاءُوكُمْ قَالُوا آمَنَّا وَقَد دَّخَلُوا بِالْكُفْرِ وَهُمْ قَدْ خَرَجُوا بِهِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْتُمُونَ

[5:60] Say, ‘O People of the Book! do you find fault with us because we believe in Allah and what has been sent down to us and what was sent down previously? Or is it because most of you are disobedient to God?’

[5:61] Say, ‘Shall I inform you of those whose reward with Allah is worse than that? They are those whom Allah has cursed and on whom His wrath has fallen and of whom He has made apes and swine and who worship the Evil One. These indeed are in a worse plight, and farther astray from the right path. 

[5:62] And when they come to you, they say, ‘We believe,’ while they enter with unbelief and go out therewith;and Allah knows best what they conceal.

It is stated in Tafseer Ibn-e-Kathir:

‘Mujahid said this verse is regarding Jews who prayed the dawn prayer with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and they disbelieved at the end of the day as a plot to turn people away, such that it appeared as if they saw misguidance [in the religion] after having entered into it.’ [16]

They would not have considered such a plan if they knew they would be killed upon leaving Islam. Historical records do not mention that these Jews were killed for leaving Islam.

A Bedouin Who Left Medina

One Hadith mentions that a bedouin accepted Islam and then settled in Medina. He later became sick and attributed his sickness to the acceptance of the faith. He asked the Holy Prophet (sa) for permission to renounce Islam, which the Prophet refused to give. Asking permission of the Holy Prophet (sa) probably meant that he was seeking his advice on the matter. The Holy Prophet (sa) thus informed him that to renounce Islam was the incorrect course of action, and one that he could not approve of in principle. Nevertheless, the bedouin soon left Medina on his own. 

The Holy Prophet (sa) at no point warned him that to renounce Islam would result in his execution, nor did he order anyone to pursue and kill him. He instead only remarked upon his leaving that Medina ejects impurities:

‘Narrated Jabir (ra):

A Bedouin came to the Prophet (sa) and said, ‘Please take my Pledge of allegiance for Islam.’ So the Prophet took from him the Pledge of allegiance for Islam. He came the next day with a fever and said to the Prophet (sa) ‘Cancel my pledge.’ But the Prophet (sa) refused and when the Bedouin went away, the Prophet said, ‘Medina is like a pair of bellows (furnace): It expels its impurities and brightens and clears its good.” [17]

Abdullah bin Abi Sarh – An Apostate Forgiven

One scribe of the Qur’an, Abdullah bin Abi Sarh, left Islam and joined the polytheists and actively began to oppose the Muslims. When Mecca was conquered, he was amongst those people whom the Prophet ordered to be killed for joining the enemy and inflaming enmities against the Muslims. Nevertheless, the Prophet forgave him. 

It is mentioned that he was granted protection by a close companion of the Holy Prophet (sa), Hazrat Uthman (ra):

‘Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra):

Abdullah ibn AbuSarh used to write (the revelation) for the Messenger of Allah (sa). Satan made him slip, and he joined the infidels. The Messenger of Allah (sa) commanded to kill him on the day of Conquest (of Mecca). Uthman ibn Affan sought protection for him. The Messenger of Allah (sa) gave him protection.’ [18]

If the legal punishment for apostasy was death, then there would have been no question of granting him protection. Protection could not be granted in matters of legal punishments. 

In a different narration, it is mentioned that Abdullah accepted Islam after the conquest of Mecca. After initially refusing, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) accepted his oath of allegiance:

‘On the day when Mecca was conquered, the Messenger of Allah (sa) gave protection to the people except four men and two women and he named them. Ibn AbuSarh was one of them.

He then narrated the tradition. He said: Ibn AbuSarh hid himself with Uthman ibn Affan. When the Messenger of Allah (sa) called the people to take the oath of allegiance, he brought him and made him stand before the Messenger of Allah (sa). He said: ‘Messenger of Allah, receive the oath of allegiance from him’. He raised his head and looked at him thrice, denying him every time. After the third time he received his oath. He then turned to his Companions and said: ‘Is not there any intelligent man among you who would stand to this (man) when he saw me desisting from receiving the oath of allegiance, and kill him?’ They replied: ‘We do not know, Messenger of Allah, what lies in your heart; why did you not give us a hint with your eye?’ He said: ‘It is not proper for a Prophet to have a treacherous eye.’

Abu Dawud said: ‘Abd Allah (b. Abi Sarh) was the foster brother of ‘Uthman, and Walid b. ‘Uqbah was his brother by mother, and ‘Uthman inflicted on him the hadd punishment when he drank wine.’ [19]

He had remained a non-Muslim for a long time; certainly, more than three days. If he had committed the clear capital offense of apostasy, then there would be no question of his pardon.

The Prophet Muhammad (sa) had originally called for him to be killed for treason, the standing order for all acts of treason during war. It seems that he declined to accept his oath of allegiance for that same reason, but later changed his mind.

The war was now over, and his treason had not included murder of innocent Muslims, unlike others. His crime had been inciting other tribes against Islam and abandonment of the Muslim forces during a time of war. Abdullah had surrendered of his own accord and asked to accept Islam, which was a declaration of repentance. Thus, he had put himself under the mercy of the ruler of the time. The Qur’an states that the default punishment for harb is death, but those who surrender themselves before they are caught should be shown leniency:

إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا مِن قَبْلِ أَن تَقْدِرُوا عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ فَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

[5:34] The reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land is only this that they be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on alternate sides, or they be expelled from the land. That shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a great punishment;

[5:35] Except those who repent before you have them in your power. So know that Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.

The Prophet (sa) had decided that the Victory of Mecca would be a day of clemency and general amnesty to all the disbelievers in Mecca, despite their previous hostility to Islam. Being a true ‘Mercy unto Mankind’, he chose to grant this clemency and pardon to Abdullah bin Abi Sarh, considering that the situation no longer demanded his execution and that he had surrendered himself and accepted Islam.

Forgiveness not Permissible in Cases of Crimes with Punishments Stipulated in the Holy Qur’an (Hudud)

It is well-known that for offenses that reach the degree of crimes that have stipulated punishments in the Qur’an (Hudud), there is no question of forgiveness. The Holy Prophet (sa) emphatically explained this when he stated that had his own daughter Fatima been guilty of the offense of theft, he would order for her hand to be cut off:

‘`Urwa bin Az-Zubair (ra) narrated:

A lady committed theft during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (sa) in the Ghazwa of Al-Fath, (i.e. Conquest of Mecca). Her folk went to Usama bin Zaid to intercede for her (with the Prophet). When Usama interceded for her with Allah’s Messenger (sa), the color of the face of Allah’s Messenger (sa) changed and he said, ‘Do you intercede with me in a matter involving one of the legal punishments prescribed by Allah?’ Usama said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (sa)! Ask Allah’s Forgiveness for me.’ So in the afternoon, Allah’s Apostle got up and addressed the people. He praised Allah as He deserved and then said, ‘The nations prior to you were destroyed because if a noble amongst them stole, they used to excuse him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would apply (Allah’s) Legal Punishment to him. By Him in Whose Hand Muhammad’s soul is, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad stole, I would cut her hand.’ Then Allah’s Messenger (sa) gave his order in the case of that woman and her hand was cut off. Afterwards her repentance proved sincere and she got married. `Aisha said, ‘That lady used to visit me and I used to convey her demands to Allah’s Messenger (sa).’ [20]

The Qur’an stipulates that the punishment for robbery is the amputation of the hand:

وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِّنَ اللهِ ۗوَاللهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ 

[5:39] And as for the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off their hands in retribution of their offence as an exemplary punishment from Allah. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.

The Prophet Muhammad (sa) would always implement the Islamic penal law in cases where crimes were perpetrated to a degree that merited the stipulated punishment:

‘Narrated `Aisha (ra):

Allah’s Messenger (sa) never took revenge for his own self in any matter presented to him till Allah’s limits were exceeded, in which case he would take revenge for Allah’s sake.’ [21]

Thus, the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) did not insist that the death sentence be carried out in any instance of apostasy that only involved peacefully leaving the faith, clearly demonstrates that such a punishment does not exist in the Islamic penal code.

Apostates Ordered to be Killed had Committed Major Crimes that Demanded the Capital Punishment

There are narrations of certain people who were ordered to be killed and where the sentences were carried out. Some of them happened to be apostates. Nevertheless, the reason for their being killed was never for the simple act of apostasy, rather because of other crimes that they had committed, most notably murder. Two are mentioned below by way of example.

Miqyas ibn Subabah al-Laythi was ordered to be killed on the day of the victory of Mecca. He had murdered a man from the Ansaar who had killed his brother Hisham (a Muslim) by accident during a battle. Miqyas originally came to the Prophet seeking justice, who ruled that he should receive blood-money. Miqyas accepted the blood money, became a Muslim, and then later murdered the Ansaari man and fled, abandoning Islam and joining the polytheists. [22] He was later killed. [23] 

Abdullah Ibn Khatal was also ordered killed. He was previously a collector of Zakat. He once went out to collect Zakat, but killed the Ansari Muslim that went with him and fled with the tax that he had collected. [24]

The Ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

After the Qur’an and Sunnah, the third source of Islamic teachings are the Ahadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). These must also be interpreted in a way that are in accordance with the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah. 

There are various Ahadith of the Holy Prophet (sa) which speak about apostasy and are used by some scholars to infer capital punishment for apostasy. Nevertheless, these Ahadith cannot be interpreted in such a manner. Their actual meanings will be discussed below.

The Hadith: Death for Who Leaves the Faith (Din) and Separates Himself from the Community (Jama’at)

There is a Hadith which states:

‘Narrated by Abdullah ibn-e-Mas’ud (ra):

‘The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who leaves the Din (faith) – one who leaves the Jama’at (community). [25]

Another Hadith with almost the same wording of as the one above but with an important clarification is found the same book of Bukhari. The Hadith is narrated by Abu Qilaba (ra) and states:

I said, ‘By Allah, Allah’s Messenger (sa) never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations: (1) A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,) (2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and (3) a man who fought against Allah and His Apostle and deserted Islam and became an apostate.’ [26]

It seems that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) was explaining that only a rebellious apostate who was involved in waging war against the Muslims by way of treason and rebellion should be put to death. 

A similar Hadith is narrated by Hazrat Aisha (ra) as well:

‘It was narrated from ‘Aishah (ra) that:

The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: ‘It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim except in three cases: An adulterer who had been married, who should be stoned to death; a man who killed another man intentionally, who should be killed; and a man who left Islam and waged war against Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, and His Messenger, who should be killed, or crucified, or banished from the land.’ [27]

 ‘This is the Judgement of Allah and His Messenger’

Hazrat Muadh bin Jabal (ra) is reported to have killed an apostate based on the ruling of the Prophet Muhammad (sa):

‘Narrated Abu Burda (ra)

Abu Musa said, ‘I came to the Prophet (sa) along with two men (from the tribe) of Ash`ariyin, one on my right and the other on my left, while Allah’s Messenger (sa) was brushing his teeth (with a Siwak), and both men asked him for some employment. The Prophet (sa) said, ‘O Abu Musa (O `Abdullah bin Qais!).’ I said, ‘By Him Who sent you with the Truth, these two men did not tell me what was in their hearts and I did not feel (realize) that they were seeking employment.’ As if I were looking now at his Siwak being drawn to a corner under his lips, and he said, ‘We never (or, we do not) appoint for our affairs anyone who seeks to be employed. But O Abu Musa! (or `Abdullah bin Qais!) Go to Yemen.’ The Prophet then sent Mu`adh bin Jabal after him and when Mu`adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Musa. Mu`adh asked, ‘Who is this (man)?’ Abu Musa said, ‘He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.’ Then Abu Musa requested Mu`adh to sit down but Mu`adh said, ‘I will not sit down till he has been killed.’ This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, ‘Then we discussed the night prayers and one of us said, ‘I pray and sleep, and I hope that Allah will reward me for my sleep as well as for my prayers.”’ [28]

Mu’adh (ra) only indicates that this in an order of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). He does not state that he himself heard it from the Prophet (sa). It is possible that he only assumed that it was order or had heard it second-hand from another companion. 

It is also telling that Abu Musa (ra) did not kill the Jew, rather only had him imprisoned. If the death penalty for apostasy in all cases was so widely known, how could he have been unaware of it? Especially if he had been sent as a teacher of Islam to the people of Yemen by the Prophet Muhammad (sa).

There is no information about who the Jew was, nor whether he had committed any other crimes or what the security situation was in Yemen at that time. The history of this prisoner is shrouded in mystery. Even his name is not mentioned.

According to Ibn-e-Hajar Al-Asqalani in his work Fathul Bari (a commentary on Sahih Al-Bukhari), there are many conflicting reports about what occurred when Muadh Ibn Jabal met him. 

In short, there are too many unknowns to take this hadith as a basis for implementing an unfettered decree of death for apostasy under all circumstances.

‘Strike the Neck of He Who Changes His Religion

Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘If someone changes his deen – strike his neck!’ [29]

In Sharah Zurqani (A commentary on the Muwatta Imam Malik, in which the previous hadith is found), the author Muhammad Az-Zurqani states that this is a Hadith Mursal, meaning that the person who is narrating the hadith from the Prophet  Muhammad (sa) (Zaid bin Aslam) did not actually meet him. He was rather a Taab’i, someone who had met and spent time with the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). As such, this hadith cannot be used as a primary source text, and certainly cannot be the basis for establishing the validity of the death penalty for apostasy. At most, it can be treated as circumstantial evidence.

Even if it is a valid Hadith, it would be subject to the same interpretation as the Hadith which mentions death for the apostate who engages in Harb

The Narration of Ibn-e-Abbas (ra): ‘Kill Him Who Changes His Faith’

There is a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) that is generally understood as meaning that all apostates should be killed. The Hadith is narrated by Ikrima in the majority of narrations in the most well-known works of Hadith:

‘Narrated `Ikrima:

Some Zanadiq (perverse people) were brought to `Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn `Abbas who said, ‘If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Messenger (sa) forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).” I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Messenger (sa), ‘Whoever changes his Din, then kill him.’‘ [30]

This hadith is found in many collections of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). Nevertheless, neither this nor any other Hadith cannot be interpreted in a way that goes against the clear edicts of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah.

Analysis of the Chain of Narrators (Rawayat)

The Ahadith can be analyzed for authenticity in various ways. One of these is according to the number of reporters in each stage of the isnad (chain of narrators). Depending on each stage of the isnad, i.e. in each generation of reporters, it can be classified into the categories of Mutawatir (‘consecutive’) or Ahaad (‘single’) Ahadith.

Mutawatir Hadith, is one which is reported by such a large number of people at each stage of the narration, that they cannot be expected to agree upon an incorrect statement. These Ahadith in term of the number of their narrators is at the highest degree of authenticity. 

Hadith Ahaad or Khabar Wahid is one which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of a Mutawatir.  

There are further breakdowns of the types of Hadith Ahaad.

In the case of the Hadith we are analyzing, it is a Hadith Ahaad Gharib, meaning that only a single narrator has been found relating it at some state of the isnad. Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) is the only narrator at the first step. In most cases as well, Ikrimah is the only narrator at the second step. 

In essence, we are relying on a single person for the truthfulness of the narration, rather than multiple independent sources narrating the same wording from the Prophet Muhammad (sa). 

Based on this, scholars have concluded that a Hadith Ahaad is not sufficient proof upon which action can be mandated, as it only provides speculative evidence. For accepting a Hadith Ahaad as the basis of belief and action, especially Hudud (punishments), it must be supported by other evidence. In this case, there is no other solid supporting evidence. Rather, the evidence goes strongly against an interpretation which allows killing for apostasy that does not involve rebellion or treason against the state.

Criticism of the Chain of Narrators in Bukhari that Includes ‘Ikramah

In this case, this hadith has been attributed to Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) by a person known as ‘Ikramah maula (the servant of) Ibn-e-Abbas. According to the books of hadith narrators, he is unreliable, and therefore his narration cannot be accepted. 

He is classified as being a Khariji, meaning he was part of the group that opposed Hazrat Ali (ra):

‘And Masab Az-Zubairi said that Ikrimah held the view of the Khawarij’ [31]

As was his habit and those of his group (the khawarij), ‘Ikramah appears to have attributed a false history to Hazrat Ali (ra) in an attempt to discredit him– claiming that he burned several people, presumably alive, against the instructions of the Holy Prophet (sa). 

‘Ikramah was known to habitually attribute false traditions to Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbas (ra):

‘Abdullah bin al Harith relates: ‘I went to the house of ‘Ali bin ‘Abdullah bin Abbas [the son of Ibn-e-Abbas] and saw that in front of the house of Hadrat Al-Hassan Ikrama sat shackled. I said to Ali, ‘do you not fear God?’ Ali replied: ‘This wicked man goes about relating false traditions ascribing them to my father.” [23]

He was such a wicked man and liar that the Muslims refused to offer his funeral prayer after his death:

‘I have heard certain residents of Medina recounting that ‘Ikrama’s and Kathir Izza’s bodies were brought on the same day to the mosque door. People said the funeral prayer of Kathir but did not say the funeral prayer of ‘Ikrama.’ [33]

Nevertheless, there are conflicting opinions about him. Some held him in high regard. In the Abbasid period, ‘Ikrama attained the esteem and renown of a pious and God-fearing scholar. The reason for his renown was his opposition to Hadrat ‘Ali (ra) and his political support for the Abbasids. The Abbasids opposed each person and everything that had anything to do with the progeny of ‘Ali (ra).

The traditions regarding death as punishment of apostasy were born out of the events that took place in Basra, Kufa and Yemen. The real authorities on Ahadith, who resided in Mecca and Medina, seem totally oblivious of this tradition. None of them have narrated this Hadith.

One cannot overlook the fact that the narrators of this tradition of ‘Ikrama are Iraqis. About them Imam Hisham bin Urwah said:

‘If an Iraqi relates a hundred Ahadith to you, utterly dismiss ninety-nine of these and be suspicious of the remainder’ [34]

The same Hadith Narrated without ‘Ikramah

The above hadith has not been transmitted exclusively through ‘Ikramah. In Sahih ibn Hibban (a lesser known work) it is narrated:

‘From Qatadah, from Ibn-e-Abbas:

The Prophet (sa) stated: ‘Kill him who changes his religion.” [35]

This chain of narration has not been narrated in the more authentic works, but nonetheless it has been classified as Sahih, or trustworthy by Shuaib Al-Arnout, and on the level of Sahih Bukhari and Muslim. Nevertheless, it remains Gharib, that is, it is still only related through Ibn-e-Abbas (ra).

Even if the chain of narrators is reliable and these words actually proceeded from the Prophet Muhammad (sa), the narration itself is subject to various interpretations. These will be discussed later. 

Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbas (ra)

Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) was an illustrious companion of the Holy Prophet (sa). Nevertheless, he was only 13, and according to some 15, when the Prophet Muhammad (sa) passed away. [36] It is possible that he heard this hadith while he was still quite young and forgot some portion of it when he narrated it at a later point in time.

In this case, the interpretation of the hadith would follow that of the hadith which mentions that only an apostate who becomes a Muharib (rebel) should be killed. Moreover, the wording of the Hadith lends itself to this interpretation. 

Analysis of the Content (Darayat)

Linguistic Analysis

The Word Deen

The Hadith does not mention that whoever leaves Islam should be killed. It does not mention any specific religion. 

Deen (دین), generally translated as faith or religion, also means obedience. In fact, this is the actual definition of the word, and others are derived:

And Ad-Deen is used to describe obedience and reward, and submissiveness to the Shariat. And Ad-Din is like Millat (the Islamic community), but it is used (in this context) to denote obedience and submissiveness to the Shariat. Allah has stated, ‘The Din according to Allah is Islam’, and also said, ‘And who is better in Din than he who submits himself to Allah and is a doer of good deeds’, that is to say, one who is obedient. [37]

Obedience in this case would be to the government and leaving a state of obedience would be defined in this case as rebellion. 

The Hadith would thus be translated as: 

‘He who stops being obedient to the state and engages in rebellion or violence should be killed’. 

This is in line with a Qur’anic injunction that open, violent rebellion against a legitimate governing authority is in some cases deserving of the death penalty:

إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

[5:34] The reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land is only this that they be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on alternate sides, or they be expelled from the land. That shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a great punishment;

The Word ‘Kill Him’

‘Uqtuluhu’ (اقتلوه) which is generally translated to mean ‘kill him’, also has the meanings of making ineffective or lowering the intensity of something:

‘He killed (qatala) the drink: He mixed it with water. He killed (qatala) the hunger/thirst: He removed its pain with food or drink, he limited its intensity.’ [38]

The word qatal (to kill) also has the meaning of repelling evil:

‘Allah killed (qatala) somebody: He repelled his evil’ [39]

Therefore, the part of the Hadith which is generally translated as ‘kill him’ could be translated in the following ways, keeping the above valid definitions of the word qatal in mind as well as translating Deen as religion:

‘He who changes his religion (peacefully), give no importance to him or his action’ or 

‘He who changes his religion (peacefully), do not let his action weaken your morale or adherence to Islam’ or 

‘He who changes his religion (peacefully), repel the evil of his action in the best manner by following Islam even more closely and refuting his accusations and wrong beliefs’.

In short, the Hadith itself is not at a level of complete reliability. Even if it were taken as reliable, it would not be interpreted in a way to support the death penalty for apostasy that does not include rebellion, as this would go against the clear teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah.

Historical Analysis

How do we reconcile the idea that the Qur’an on one hand guarantees religious freedom, even for apostates, and on the other hand, the existence of certain Ahadith which mention that an apostate should be killed? Why was the term apostate used at all if the order for death applied only to a Muharib (rebellious person who fights against Islam)?

There is a way to reconcile the use of the term apostate as Muharib keeping the historical context of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) in mind and Islamic legal terminology. 

For most of his life after moving to Medina, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) lived under the constant threat of attack and was almost constantly engaged in defensive wars. For a long time, there were no treaties between him and many of the tribes around him. Many of these tribes were hostile to the Muslims precisely because of their faith. The Muslims lived in constant fear of attack.

Before Islam, and during its nascent days, Arabia was dominated by tribal affiliations. There were no state institutions or government. Loyalties started and ended with blood relationships. People were identified by their tribal affiliations more than anything else. The major religion was paganism. 

Islam introduced a new sense of identity. Converts primarily identified themselves through their faith. So profound was the effect of Islam upon them that it became their primary identity. Religion was more important than tribal identity for the Muslims. If there was a clash between the two, then faith would take priority.

This was a radical idea, something that went against the very basis of Arabian societal organization. Islamic brotherhood had taken precedence over tribal affiliation. Moreover, the Islamic lifestyle was at loggerheads with many aspects of Arab society – warfare, slavery, paganism, pride, etc. 

Islam was thus seen as a huge taboo and source of strife for the pagan Arabs. Members of the same family would at times disown and become enemies of blood relations who accepted Islam.

During the early days of Islam, there was no real idea of Muslims living peacefully within Arabia alongside pagans. They had become much too hostile to the message of Islam. It is for this reason that the Muslims had fled for their lives from Mecca and sought refuge in Abyssinia and later Medina. In response to the flight of the Muslims to Medina, the pagans promptly began military campaigns against the newly emerging Muslim community which lasted many years. 

The battles that were fought between the Muslims of Medina and the pagans from the rest of Arabia, led by the Quraish of Mecca, were not fought on political, geographical or even tribal lines. Rather these battles were something entirely new for the Arabs – this was a war primarily between two ideologies. It was paganism against Islam. During the period of conflict, people began to be identified, more than in any other way, by their religious identity. You were either a Muslim, or a non-Muslim pagan. If you were a Muslim, you fought for the Muslims in defense of Islam and freedom of religion. If you were a pagan, you fought with the pagans against the Muslims. 

There was no concept of someone becoming a Muslim and then remaining a loyal ‘citizen’ of a different social institution. Nor vice-versa. There was no social or legal structure allowing for it at the time.

Therefore, it is possible that the Prophet mentioned the Ahadith about death for apostasy during these times of war and uncertainty where leaving Islam was not merely a question of a change of doctrine, rather it was tantamount to that person leaving the Muslim forces to join enemy combatants. It was an act of treason. Apostasy was thus equivalent to Harb during these times. 

In our era of religious freedom and relative peace, it seems like a difficult concept to accept. But consider the following scenario:

Imagine that the world was divided into two ideological camps – Red and Blue. Imagine they were at war. Obviously, people on both sides have other identities, but during ideological conflict, those other identities are not prioritized. In this situation, your survival is linked with your political identity, and not so much with the others. 

Imagine if during the midst of a battle, a lieutenant from the Blue side suddenly declared that he was leaving, that he had had a change of heart and no longer believed in Blue ideology. Rather, he now believed in Red ideology. Now imagine that he was a former member of the Red camp. This lieutenant had fled from the Red army some time ago and declared his belief in the Blue side, and had integrated into the Blue society. He now had intimate knowledge of all aspects of the Blue camp and army. And now, he declared that he no longer believed in Blue ideology, and moreover expressed his desire to leave. 

At any other time, his change in philosophy and desire to leave would not be alarming. But in a situation of war being fought on ideological lines, his change of ideology would be interpreted as nothing less than treason and desertion. In such an atmosphere, there was a huge risk that he would return to or join the enemy side. It is possible that he was in fact a spy working to gather information and now wished to return. If he did go over to the enemy camp, he would be taking with him sensitive information about the inner workings of the army. What in other times was a harmless change in doctrine, was now a threat to the collective security of all those who identified as members of the Blue side. 

This was exactly the situation that the Muslims faced. All the Muslims were converts; the majority were former pagans. Any person was welcome to join the Muslims with a simple declaration of faith. Even during times of great uncertainty, the Muslims accepted all sincere converts. But during times of conflict, to allow such people to leave carried too much of a security risk for others. 

It is possible that during the years of conflict in Medina before the Treaty of Hudaibiya, the general rule was that he who had become a part of Muslim society and integrated into it was not allowed to leave. It would be tantamount to desertion during war, or even treason. There were no standing armies at the time; the soldiers were ordinary members of the Muslim community. Therefore, the general rule was that those who left Islam and separated themselves from the Muslim community were to be killed – such an act was desertion and treason. There was no difference between apostasy and becoming an enemy combatant in that situation. This was a temporary measure when society was operating under martial instead of civil law.

When this situation passed and the Muslims entered into a peace treaty with the Meccans at Hudaibiya, there was no longer an immediate threat to the security of the Muslims. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) readily agreed to the clause, that anyone who wished to leave the Muslims and join the Meccans was free to do so. In times of peace, apostasy and harb were again seen as separate phenomena. 

Within this context, the rest of the narrations about how apostates were not killed are also better understood. 

Those that left Islam in Mecca, rejecting the reality of the Isra (overnight journey) were not killed. This is because the Muslims did not have a separate political identity at the time. That identity was formed after the migration.

The bedouin who left Medina most likely did so after the Prophet Muhammad (sa) had signed the treaty of Hudaibiya. Therefore, he was not pursued. The Hadith also mentions that he left very quickly after having entered Medina, perhaps within a few days. It is possible that even if he had entered during a time of conflict, he was not there long enough for his abandonment to have been deemed a threat to the security of the city. 

In the case of not killing the Jews who apostatized from Islam, this was because despite their apostasy, they remained within Medina. As they did not leave the Muslims and join the enemy ranks, there was no question of receiving the death penalty. Also, this incident must have occurred in Medina, because the Prophet Muhammad (sa) only had major dealings with the Jews after the migration. Therefore, this incident almost certainly occurred after the signing of the charter of Medina, which was one of the first actions of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) after migration. The treaty guaranteed protection to all the citizens of Medina, including the Jews, and united them in the common defense of the city. Therefore, since there was no immediate fear of a security threat because of their apostasy, they could renounce Islam peacefully. 

Abdullah bin Abi Sarah was forgiven once the battle of Mecca was over because he no longer posed a threat to the security of the Muslims. Moreover, he had surrendered and pledged his loyalty to the Muslims before he had been apprehended and perhaps in an attempt to avoid repercussions. According to the Qur’an, this required that he be shown leniency.

Likewise, the other reported cases of apostates not being killed were because they had left Islam peacefully and did not pose a risk to the security of the Muslim community.  

The Hadith of Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) vs. Other Narrations

The Hadith of Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) is somewhat problematic for some because it is an unqualified statement: ‘Kill him who changes his faith’. This is opposed to the other Ahadith about this subject, such as those of Hazrat Aisha (ra) and Ibn-e-Masud (ra), which state that the death penalty is for him who leaves the faith and separates himself from the community. The second Hadith clarifies the type of apostasy – one that includes separation from the community and joining of the enemy. It is possible that Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) had forgotten this part of the Hadith or had not understood it’s full context when he heard it. 

The Treaty of Hudaibiya was signed in 6 Hijra. [40] The period of conflict extended from 1 to 6 Hijri. Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) was born between 8 and 10 Nabawi, [41] as it is mentioned that he was 13 or 15 years old when the Prophet Muhammad (sa) died.

During the period of conflict, he would have been anywhere from 2 to 10 years old. A boy of that age cannot be expected to remember every word that he hears. Thus, the unqualified Hadith of Ibn-e-Abbas (ra) ‘kill him who changes his religion’, is called into question. It is most likely that he forgot or did not understand the context, which was conveyed by other narrators such as Hazrat Aisha (ra) and Ibn-e-Mas’ud (ra), who were old enough to have remembered it. The death penalty was for one who not only left Islam, but also separated himself from the community as an enemy combatant.

Other Evidence of Degrees of Seriousness for the Same Crime

The same crimes, in different situations, are in fact not the same. Certain crimes that are done in different situations are more serious and damaging and thus carry different punishments, whereas before, they may not have merited any punishment at all. This is an established concept in Islamic legal theory, in which the same crime can be perpetrated in various degrees, and at each degree its punishment can be different. 

For example, the Holy Qur’an in once place calls for those spreading rumors to be killed:

لَّئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ وَالْمُرْجِفُونَ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ لَنُغْرِيَنَّكَ بِهِمْ ثُمَّ لَا يُجَاوِرُونَكَ فِيهَا إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مَّلْعُونِينَ ۖ أَيْنَمَا ثُقِفُوا أُخِذُوا وَقُتِّلُوا تَقْتِيلًا

[33:61] If the hypocrites, and those in whose heart is a disease, and those who cause agitation in the city, desist not, We shall surely give thee authority over them; then they will not dwell therein as thy neighbours, save for a little while.

[33:62] Then they will be accursed. Wherever they are found, they will be seized, and cut into pieces.

The context of these verses indicates that these hypocrites were spreading rumors with the intent to malign the pure character of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and other believers. The death penalty for such rumors stands in contrast with other verses of the Qur’an which call for patience and restraint to be exercised before hurtful speech:

لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ

[3:187] You shall surely be tried in your possessions and in your persons and you shall surely hear many hurtful things from those who were given the Book before you and from those who set up equals to God. But if you show fortitude and act righteously, that indeed is a matter of strong determination.

When there is a specific accusation of adultery or fornication but without enough evidence, the Qur’an implements the following injunction:

وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ 

[24:5] And those who calumniate chaste women but bring not four witnesses — flog them with eighty stripes, and never admit their evidence thereafter, and it is they that are the transgressors,

Why the difference in punishment for the same crime?

It seems that in the case of the hypocrites, their rumors carried a risk that was altogether different. The marriages of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) served, amongst other things, an important political purpose – to unify the different tribes living in Arabia under the banner of Islam. The rumors against the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) could have resulted in political instability, which could have led to warfare. Moreover, it is also possible that rumors of the sort were being spread at a time to demoralize the Muslims and further destabilize the already precarious security situation in the city before the Treaty of Hudaibiya. Or, if the verse was revealed after the treaty, to inflame tensions once again between the various tribes.

The same concept is seen for other crimes that carry the punitive punishments. Theft is reprehensible, but it is not punishable with the amputation of the hand in all situations. For example, it cannot be applied to a person who steals food during a famine. Adultery is reprehensible and a sin. Nevertheless, it cannot be punished unless there are four witnesses, meaning when it is done publicly. Murder carries the death sentence, but in cases of accidental killing, it is preferable that blood money be paid by the killer to the relatives instead.

In all cases of Hudud punishments, the punishments are applied not for the actual sin, but for the public disorder that they bring about. 

Theft results in a lack of confidence in the security and economic system. Public adultery results in the corruption of morals and strikes at the basis of society – a secure family unit. Murder generates fear and lowers confidence in the security situation in a country, which brings a host of other problems. 

Nevertheless, the security concerns of these crimes are mitigated in certain situations: theft of food during famine is not as egregious, and during famine the economy is already under pressure. The famine caused the problem, not the theft itself. Adultery behind closed doors is an evil but remains contained and does not affect the morals of society at large. An accidental killing does not result in lack of confidence in the security of a nation, whereas open murder does.

Therefore, the Hudud punishments are for those sinful actions that reach a level where they cause public disorder. In fact, actions at this level are no longer considered as singular acts of theft, adultery or murder, rather are understood as Fasad-fil-Ard (disorder in the land). About such disorder, the injunction of the Qur’an is that they can sometimes be punished very severely, even with death:

إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

[5:34] The reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land is only this that they be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on alternate sides, or they be expelled from the land. That shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a great punishment;

Was Islam an Absolute Theocracy During the Time of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)?

Certain modern researchers advocate that Islam was an absolute theocracy during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). Society was built upon adherence to Islam – it was an ‘order under heaven’ approach, where all freedoms, rights and obligations were derived from divine law. Therefore, any cessation from Islam was a fundamental threat to the order and security of society. Whether during times of peace or war, any case of apostasy was thus punishable by death. Nowadays, they argue that because many societies are governed by secular institutions and not laws that are not derived from the Qur’an, apostasy can no longer be punished with death by Muslims living under such secular systems. 

There are several problems with this interpretation. 

One, it assumes that Islam should exist as an absolute theocracy that does not tolerate apostasy. These secular systems are thus tolerated as an aberration, to be done away with at the earliest convenience. Nevertheless, the legitimacy of even this hidden tolerance is suspect. 

The Prophet Muhammad (sa) was a lawgiver; his responsibility was to implement and demonstrate Islam in all spheres of application. If a Muslim can live under a secular government, at which point was this demonstrated or taught by him? If there was to be freedom of religion and the right to recantation, at which point was this clearly demonstrated so as to teach the future generations about its legality in a secular context? If, according to our opposers, it was never demonstrated, then to live under a secular government is fundamentally opposed to life as a Muslim. 

Two, it assumes that secular institutions and a level of freedom of religion that allows for apostasy and criticism of Islam are not originally part of the Islamic paradigm. Rather, these are foreign to the model that was practiced by the Prophet Muhammad (sa). Indeed, there are many who feel that they are antithetical and hostile to the Islamic idea of world order. This is a separate topic, but in short, this is against the clear teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Charter of Medina was in essence a secular document that joined different sections of society together under shared ideals. Islam teaches that society should be based upon the common ideals of justice and goodness, with the moral compass being fine-tuned by Islamic ideals and teachings. 

Three, it does not adequately account for all the cases of where apostates were allowed to live, nor the concessions that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) allowed for the freedom of apostates through the Treaty of Hudaibiya.

Taking a critical historical view of all of the evidence, a better explanation is that Islam is inherently tolerant of apostasy within a utopian and ideal Islamic society. The episodes of death for apostasy were only a temporary measure adopted during times of religious war, itself an unwanted occurrence. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) himself demonstrated that such measures were only temporary and were thus not implemented as a norm. 

Apostasy in Today’s World

In today’s context, the death penalty cannot be justified for mere apostasy that does not include armed rebellion. There is general religious freedom, political identity that is separate from religious affiliation and strong security institutions. There is no security concern for the nation or any Muslim community if someone simply leaves the faith.

In an Islamic society, if anything there should be even higher levels of tolerance for religious freedom. The collective strength of a Muslim society and its scholars should be more than able to refute and unmask public criticisms of Islam. A Muslim society that is legitimately threatened by respectful criticism of Islam, is one that does not deserve to be called truly Islamic. The ignorance and indolence of such a society are the greatest threats to its cohesion and functioning, not the criticisms of apostates. 

Interpretation of the Sahabah and Khulafa

Wherever the penalty of death was supposedly given for apostasy during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) or during the time of his Rightly Guided Successors, it was given for rebellion and crimes against the state (Harb). In no case was it given for simply, peacefully leaving the religion where doing so was not seen as a security risk to other Muslims.

The well-known ‘wars of apostasy’ during the time of Hazrat Abu Bakar (ra), the first successor, were not waged because people had left Islam en masse. Rather, they were waged against those who had left Islam and then attacked the Muslims. The apostasy at the time was an act of treason and rebellion, and was in no way a simple change in doctrine. 

Situation in Arabia After the Death of the Prophet Muhammad (sa)

When the Prophet Muhammad (sa) returned to Medina from the Farewell Pilgrimage in the tenth year after the Hijra, he fell ill. News of his illness spread rapidly throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Those that had political ambitions began to rear their heads. 

During this last year of his life, many people claimed to be prophets and began to gather followers and stake out territory. Aswad Ansi claimed prophethood and overthrew the Muslim government in Yemen, killing the governor and marrying his widow. Another false prophet, Tulaiha, claimed prophethood in the same year. He belonged to the Banu Asad tribe who lived in the North of Medina. Musailma was another who had claimed prophethood in the area of Yamamah. These false prophets were gathering followers and soldiers. 

Before his death, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) had prepared an army under Usamah bin Zaid (ra) and ordered them to proceed towards Syria. This army had not yet departed when the Prophet Muhammad (sa) passed away. 

Those tribes that were allied with the false prophet Tulaiha, taking advantage of the situation, gathered a huge number of people and camped around Medina, in two places called Al-Abraq and Zul-Qassah. Tabari narrates:

‘The Apostle of God died, and Asad and Ghatafan and Tayyi’ gathered around Tulayhah, except for the principal leaders of some groups in the three tribes. Asad gathered at Samira’, and Fazarah and those who follow them of Ghatafan to the south of Tibah, and Tayyi’ on the borders of their territory. Tha`labah b. Sa’d and those who followed them of Murrah and Abs gathered at al-Abraq of al-Rabadhah, and people from the Banu Kinanah crowded around them to the point that the country could not sustain them; so they divided into two groups, one group remaining in al-Abraq while the other went to Dhu al-Qassah…’ [42]

Once they had made their preparations for war, they sent envoys to Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra), requesting that the Zakat be forgiven of them.

While the envoys were still in Medina, Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) sent the army led by Usama towards the Persians. Once he had done so, he refused the request of the envoys, who returned to their waiting armies. 

Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) addressed the Muslims and explained that the envoys that had returned had seen their precarious and almost defenseless situation in the city and would soon attack them, so they should make preparations. 

During this time, Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) received news of the general apostasy of all of Arabia and the armed rebellion and disorder that was spreading throughout the land. Tabari narrates:

‘After Usamah had gone away, the land sank into disbelief, and from every tribe either a small group or the whole showed disobedience and apostatized, except for Quraysh and Thagif…’ [43]

‘It was not long before there came to them from every place the letters of the Prophet’s commanders, with [news of] the rebellion of some [group], large or small, and of their boldly committing aggression against the Muslims. So Abu Bakr combated them with that which the Apostle of God had combated them-with envoys; hence he sent their messengers back with his orders, and sent [further] envoys after the [original] messengers. And he awaited the arrival of Usamah [before] clashing with them…” [44]

Coming back to the immediate threat to Medina, the followers of the false prophets had not abandoned their desire to conquer Medina. Within three days of their failed negotiations, the enemies launched a pre-emptive attack against the Muslims in Medina. Tabari narrates:

‘They had sent delegations that came to Medina and stayed with the chiefs of the people; so (the Medinan chiefs), except for Abbas, put them up and interceded for them before Abu Bakr, on condition that (the petitioning tribes) should perform prayer but not pay the alms tax. But God strengthened Abu Bakr’s resolution in the truth, and he said: ‘If they refuse me [even] a hobble, I shall fight them for it’. Now, the hobbles of the sadagah camels were required with the [camels paid as] sadagah from the people who paid sadagah; so he refused [their request], whereupon the delegation of those apostates who were near Medina returned to their tribes , telling them how few the people of Medina were and making them covetous of it. After Abu Bakr had expelled the delegation, he placed some people on the mountain passes of Medina Ali al-Zubayr, Talhah, and Abdallah b. Mas`ud – and enjoined the people of Medina to go to the mosque. And he said to them: ‘The land has sunk into disbelief, and their delegation has seen that you are few and that you would be unaware whether you were approached by day or by night. The nearest of them is [only] a stage from you. The people were hoping that we would accept them and be reconciled with them, but we refused them and dissolved their treaty. So get ready.’ Consequently they made preparations, and it wasn’t three [days] before they came raiding Medina by night…’ [45]

‘The first who clashed were Abs and Dhubyan; they hastened to [clash with] him, so that he fought them before the return of Usama…’ [46]

The Muslims repelled the attack but were later pushed back. This brought on the second attack by the apostates who had remained behind in Zul-Qissah:

‘the Muslims’ camels took fright while they were [mounted] on them-they do not shy at anything the way they did from those skins-and steered (the Muslims) out of their control until they brought them into Medina… So the enemy (qawm) thought (the Muslims were) weak and sent news to the people of Dhu al-Qassah, whereupon they advanced against them, relying on those who had brought them the news…’ [47]

They were eventually roundly defeated and the Muslims returned home victorious. 

This battle was known as the Battle of Zul-Qissah, and as a result, the Muslims gave a strong message to Arabia that the Islam had not ended after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). The ambiguity and indecision that prevailed over certain tribes disappeared. Many tribes sent delegations pledging their allegiance to Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra), and they once again began to send Zakat to Medina.

Another benefit of this battle was that it clarified the positions of both parties – those who were firmly with the Islamic government and those who had rebelled. 

In response to this defeat, the tribes who rebelled increased in their rebellion and began to indiscriminately kill Muslims. Those who remained with the Muslim government became even more convinced of being on the right side of the conflict. In response to this further aggression, Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) vowed to quell the rebellion and began to send battalions to the different areas of Arabia to establish order. Tabari states:

‘The polytheists were humiliated by (this victory), so the Banu Dhubyan and ‘Abs fell upon those Muslims who were among them and slaughtered them; and those who backed them did as they did. Meanwhile, the [other] Muslims grew stronger through Abu Bakr’s battle.’ [48]

As is abundantly clear, the country had descended into chaos. Those that left Islam had not done so in a peaceful manner, rather they had become rebels and began to fight the Muslims. The desire to not pay Zakat on part of the tribes who had sided with the false prophets seems to have been a ploy – their actual desire was to attack and sack the capital of Medina. Otherwise, there was no reason why their emissaries would come at the head of an army. The rebels were the first to attack the Muslims. After their defeat at Medina, they continued to attack and slaughter innocent Muslims who were within their grasp.

The wars that were fought against them were thus to quell their disorder and rebellion, and not because they had merely left Islam.

Hazrat Umar (ra) – Preferred Imprisonment to Death

During the time of Hazrat Umar (ra), we find an instance when he stated that he preferred to imprison apostates rather than kill them:

‘Anas ibn Malik reported: I said, ‘O commander of the faithful, some people have turned renegade against Islam and joined the idolaters. What is to be done to them other than killing?’ Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, ‘That I take hold of them on peaceful terms is more beloved to me than everything over which the sun rises, from the horizon to the zenith.’ I said, ‘O commander of the faithful, what would you do if you took hold of them?’ Umar said, ‘I would offer them the door through which they exited, that they would enter it again. If they did so, I would accept it from them;otherwise I would keep them in prison.” [49]

This shows that if apostates who had renegaded from the Muslim army and had committed treason surrendered and peacefully ended their hostilities, they could be jailed instead of killed. If apostasy merited death in all situations, then there was no way he could have expressed this desire. This shows that just like how the Prophet Muhammad (sa) forgave Abdullah bin Abi Sarh after the victory at Mecca, traitors that had not committed other crimes like murder could be forgiven or given a lesser punishment if they surrendered before being apprehended.  

The Promised Messiah (as) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on Apostasy

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was sent as the Messiah and Imam Mahdi of the age. He was divinely commissioned to restore the true teachings of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) declared that the Messiah would be the Hakam (judge) and Adal (Arbiter) of his time. Being guided by Allah, he would decide and judge between the Muslims and elucidate the true teachings of Islam.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) mentioned apostasy many times in his various works, yet never encouraged or stated that an apostate should be killed for simply leaving Islam.

He stated that the use of force in religion was abhorrent and would promote hypocrisy rather than true faith:

‘To cause bloodshed through the use of swords and to force someone to say the Kalima Shahadah is not an accomplishment. Rather this is akin to the action of bandits. What kind of ignorance is this that is found within the hearts of certain Muslims, that they are proud of the idea that their Messiah and Mahdi will force people to become Muslims and spread the faith through force? These people do not think that force cannot cause any belief to enter the hearts. Rather, every person that falls prey to such unjust individuals regards them as terribly vicious people in his heart, even though he may outwardly agree with them to save himself.’ [50]

In line with Islamic teachings, he taught that we should show compassion towards those who wish to renounce Islam, be conscience of the reasons for apostasy and respond to the objections of those who have left Islam. But in no place did he ever intimate that those that renounce Islam should be killed:

‘The reason for the apostasy of those people that level objections against Islam, such as the author of ‘Ummuhaat-ul-Mu’mineen’ and Imaad-ud-Deen and Safdar Ali and others, is that at that time kindness and compassion was not used. Rather in the majority of cases sharp criticism and harshness was shown, and their objections were not removed through clemency. This is why by, being deprived of Islamic blessings, they have adopted apostasy. Now the majority of people who level objections against Islam are those who, because of the lack of attention from their community, have become disturbed and have thus entered into Christianity. Open your eyes and observe that these people who are using abusive language have not come from Europe. They are the children of the Muslims of this country, who being cut off little by little from Islam and influenced little by little by the words of the Christians have reached this condition. In reality, there are hundreds of thousands of people whose hearts are being corrupted. There are thousands of people whose natures have been perverted. So the great and manifest task that we have before us is to raise our eyes and see that the country is becoming one of lepers, and the poisonous plants of doubts have flowered in countless hearts and continue to blossom. In the entire Holy Qur’an, Allah encourages us that we should render true service to the religion of Islam, and it should be our duty that there not be raised any objection from the side of the opponents but that it be responded to with thorough research and investigation by which the seekers of truth are fully satisfied and contented.’ [51]

He mentioned how thousands of Muslims had become Christians in India during his time. [52] He once debated a former Muslim who had become a Christian priest, Abdullah Atham. [53] Chiragh Din, one of his followers, left Islam and became a pseudo-Christian, claiming prophethood for himself. [54] He wrote extensively about these and others who had left Islam, yet never stated that they should be killed according to the Islamic Shariah.

An English article titled Effect of Apostacy from Islamism in British India, was once published anonymously in the Review of Religions, an English magazine launched by the Promised Messiah (ra). This article was published in May 1908 – during the lifetime of the Promised Messiah (as). In this article, a lengthy exposition is given about the concept of apostasy in Islam. The author refutes the idea that Islam teaches death for apostasy, citing the Qu’ran and Ahadith, and explaining that the Ahadith which speak about death for apostasy were stated during times of religious war, when apostasy was looked upon as treason.

Later on, the subject of apostasy was dealt with at length by his successors and scholars of his community, who thoroughly refuted the idea that Islam advocates the death penalty for apostasy.

Conclusion

In light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, the punishment for apostasy is not death. The Ahadith about death for apostasy are to be understood only when apostasy was tantamount to treason in a situation where a religious war was being fought on ideological grounds. In all other cases, there is no worldly punishment for peacefully recanting and leaving the faith. 

Further Reading

‘The Truth about the Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam’, by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh). https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Apostasy-in-Islam.pdf

‘Punishment of Apostacy in Islam’, by Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan. https://www.alislam.org/library/book/punishment-apostacy-islam/

About the Author: Azhar Goraya is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada. He is currently serving as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.


ENDNOTES

[1] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society” Chapter 1: Beliefs about Sharia, pg. 46, 54-55. Pew Research Center, April 30 2013. https://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview/. Accessed August 3 2020.

[2] “Kitabul’l-fiqh ‘ala’l-madhahibi’l-‘arba’a” (The Book of Fiqh Based on the Four Schools of Jurisprudence). Abdurrahmani’l-Djaziri. Arabic Edition vol.5 pg. 373-374.

[3] “Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis – Abridged”.Taha Jabir Alalwani. pg. 16

[4]

وَحَدَّثَنِي عَنْ مَالِكٍ، عَنْ نَافِعٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم رَأَى فِي بَعْضِ مَغَازِيهِ امْرَأَةً مَقْتُولَةً فَأَنْكَرَ ذَلِكَ وَنَهَى عَنْ قَتْلِ النِّسَاءِ وَالصِّبْيَانِ

الموطأ، کتاب الجھاد، النَّهْيُ عَنْ قَتْلِ النِّسَاءِ، وَالْصِّبْيَانِ فِي الْغَزْوِ حیدث ۱۶۲۶

“Al-Muwatta.” Imam Malik. The Book of Jihad, Chapter on the Prohibition of Killing Women and Children, Hadith # 1626.

[5]

لعدم صلاحية البنية بخلاف الرجال

“As women by nature are not inclined to wage war like men, therefore, their killing is prohibited.”

“Al-Hidayah Sharhu Bidayatul Mubtadi” (The Guidance, Commentary on the Commencement of the Beginning). Abu’ul Hasan ‘Ali bin Abi Bakr Al-Rashidani Al-Marghinani. Vol. 2, pg. 407

[6] See “The Truth about the Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam”. Mirza Tahir Ahmad. pgs. 138-142. 

[7]

فَأَمَّا الْقَتْلُ فَجَعَلَهُ عُقُوبَةَ أَعْظَمِ الْجِنَايَاتِ كَالْجِنَايَةِ عَلَى الْأَنْفُسِ فَكَانَتْ عُقُوبَتُهُ مِنْ جِنْسِهِ وَكَالْجِنَايَةِ عَلَى الدِّينِ بِالطَّعْنِ فِيهِ وَالِارْتِدَادِ عَنْهُ وَهَذِهِ الْجِنَايَةُ أَوْلَى بِالْقَتْلِ وَكَفِّ عُدْوَانِ الْجَانِي عَلَيْهِ مِنْ كُلِّ عُقُوبَةٍ

(إعلام الموقعين عن رب العالمين، ابو القیم،القتل و موجبه، ۳، ۳۳۹(

“I’laam al Mooqieen an Rabbil Aalameen”(Signs that Lead to the Lord of the Worlds). Ibn Qayyim. Vol. 3 pg. 339. Killing and Its Reasons.

[8]

وَكُلُّهُمْ أَجْمَعُوا عَلَى أَنَّ أَحْكَامَ الدُّنْيَا عَلَى الظَّاهِرِ وَاللَّهُ يَتَوَلَّى السَّرَائِرَ وَقَدْ قَالَ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لِأُسَامَةَ هَلَّا شَقَقْتَ عَنْ قَلْبِهِ وَقَالَ لِلَّذِي سَارَّهُ فِي قَتْلِ رَجُلٍ أَلَيْسَ يُصَلِّي قَالَ نَعَمْ قَالَ أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ نُهِيتُ عَنْ قَتْلِهِمْ وَسَيَأْتِي قَرِيبًا أَنَّ فِي بَعْضِ طُرُقِ حَدِيثِ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ أَنَّ خَالِدَ بْنَ الْوَلِيدِ لَمَّا اسْتَأْذَنَ فِي قَتْلِ الَّذِي أَنْكَرَ الْقِسْمَةَ وَقَالَ كَمْ مِنْ مُصَلٍّ يَقُولُ بِلِسَانِهِ مَا لَيْسَ فِي قَلْبِهِ فَقَالَ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنِّي لَمْ أُومَرْ أَنْ أَنْقُبَ عَنْ قُلُوبِ النَّاسِ أَخْرَجَهُ مُسْلِمٌ وَالْأَحَادِيثُ فِي ذَلِكَ كَثِيرَةٌ الْحَدِيثُ

(فتح الباری، ۱۲:۲۷۳، (قَوْلُهُ بَابُ حُكْمِ الْمُرْتَدِّ وَالْمُرْتَدَّةِ)

Fathul Bari (The Revealing by God), vol. 12, pg. 273, Chapter: the decree about the male and female apostate

[9]

المفردات فی غریب القرآن، امام راغب

Al-Mufradat Fi Gharib-il-Qur’an (Rare Vocabularies of the Holy Qur’an). Imam Raghib. 

[10]

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يُوسُفَ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ أَبِي وَائِلٍ، عَنْ حُذَيْفَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ اكْتُبُوا لِي مَنْ تَلَفَّظَ بِالإِسْلاَمِ مِنَ النَّاسِ ‏”‏‏.‏ فَكَتَبْنَا لَهُ أَلْفًا وَخَمْسَمِائَةِ رَجُلٍ، فَقُلْنَا نَخَافُ وَنَحْنُ أَلْفٌ وَخَمْسُمِائَةٍ فَلَقَدْ رَأَيْتُنَا ابْتُلِينَا حَتَّى إِنَّ الرَّجُلَ لَيُصَلِّي وَحْدَهُ وَهْوَ خَائِفٌ‏.‏

(صحیح بخاری، كتاب الجهاد والسير، باب كِتَابَةِ الإِمَامِ النَّاسَ، حدیث ۳۰۶۰)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Al-Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Jihad, Chapter: The listing of the people by the Imam, Hadith #3060

[11]

حَدَّثَنَا عَمْرُو بْنُ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا ابْنُ الْمَهْدِيِّ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا مَنْصُورُ بْنُ سَعْدٍ، عَنْ مَيْمُونِ بْنِ سِيَاهٍ، عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ مَنْ صَلَّى صَلاَتَنَا، وَاسْتَقْبَلَ قِبْلَتَنَا، وَأَكَلَ ذَبِيحَتَنَا، فَذَلِكَ الْمُسْلِمُ الَّذِي لَهُ ذِمَّةُ اللَّهِ وَذِمَّةُ رَسُولِهِ، فَلاَ تُخْفِرُوا اللَّهَ فِي ذِمَّتِهِ ‏”‏‏‏

صحیح بخاری، کتاب الصلاة، اب فَضْلِ اسْتِقْبَالِ الْقِبْلَةِ، حدیث ۳۹۱

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Al-Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Salat, Chapter: Superiority of (praying) facing the Qiblah, Hadith #391

[12]

سنن ابن ماجہ، کتاب الزھد،باب ذکر التوبة، حدیث ۴۵۲۳

“Sunan Ibn-e-Majah” (The Sunan of Ibn-e-Majah). Ibn-e-Maja. The Book of Ascetism, The Chapter on Taubah, Hadith #4523

[13]

حدثني يعقوب، قال: ثنا ابن علية، عن أبي رجاء، عن الحسن، في قوله (وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الرُّؤْيَا الَّتِي أَرَيْنَاكَ إِلا فِتْنَةً لِلنَّاسِ) قال: أُسري به عشاء إلى بيت المقدس، فصلى فيه، وأراه الله ما أراه من الآيات، ثم أصبح بمكة، فأخبرهم أنه أُسري به إلى بيت المقدس، فقالوا له: يا محمد ما شأنك، أمسيت فيه، ثم أصبحت فينا تخبرنا أنك أتيت بيت المقدس، فعجبوا من ذلك حتى ارتدّ بعضهم عن الإسلام.

(تفسیر جامع البیان،ابن جاریر التبری، 17:60)

“Tafseer Jami’ul’Bayaan”(The Complete Commentary). Ibn-e-Jareer At-Tabari. under 17:60

[14]

وَقَالَ مُوسَى بْنُ مَسْعُودٍ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنِ الْبَرَاءِ بْنِ عَازِبٍ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ قَالَ صَالَحَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْمُشْرِكِينَ يَوْمَ الْحُدَيْبِيَةِ عَلَى ثَلاَثَةِ أَشْيَاءَ عَلَى أَنَّ مَنْ أَتَاهُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ رَدَّهُ إِلَيْهِمْ، وَمَنْ أَتَاهُمْ مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ لَمْ يَرُدُّوهُ، وَعَلَى أَنْ يَدْخُلَهَا مِنْ قَابِلٍ وَيُقِيمَ بِهَا ثَلاَثَةَ أَيَّامٍ، وَلاَ يَدْخُلَهَا إِلاَّ بِجُلُبَّانِ السِّلاَحِ السَّيْفِ وَالْقَوْسِ وَنَحْوِهِ‏.‏ فَجَاءَ أَبُو جَنْدَلٍ يَحْجُلُ فِي قُيُودِهِ فَرَدَّهُ إِلَيْهِمْ‏.‏ قَالَ لَمْ يَذْكُرْ مُؤَمَّلٌ عَنْ سُفْيَانَ أَبَا جَنْدَلٍ وَقَالَ إِلاَّ بِجُلُبِّ السِّلاَحِ‏.‏ 

 صحیح البخاری، كتاب الصلح، باب الصُّلْحِ مَعَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ، حدیث ۲۷۰۰)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Al-Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Peacemaking, Chapter: To Make Peace with the Polytheists, Hadith # 2700

[15]

تَوَاطَأَ اثْنَا عَشَرَ حَبْرًا مِنْ يَهُودِ خَيْبَرَ وَقُرَى عَرِينَةَ، وَقَالَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ: ادْخُلُوا فِي دِينِ مُحَمَّدٍ أَوَّلَ النَّهَارِ بِاللِّسَانِ دُونَ الِاعْتِقَادِ، وَاكْفُرُوا بِهِ فِي آخِرِ النَّهَارِ 

(تفسیر بحر المحیط، ابو حیان الغرناطی،سورة آل عمران، ۳، ۷۲ تا ۷۴)

“Tafseer Behr-ul-Muheet”(The Commentary of the Deep Ocean). Abu Hayyan Al-Gharnati.Under Surah Al-e-Imran 3:72-74

[16]

عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ فِي قَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى إِخْبَارًا عَنِ الْيَهُودِ بِهَذِهِ الْآيَةِ يَعْنِي يَهُودَ صَلَّتْ مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ صَلَاةَ الْفَجْرِ وَكَفَرُوا آخِرَ النَّهَارِ مَكْرًا مِنْهُمْ لِيُرُوا النَّاسَ أَنَّ قَدْ بَدَتْ لَهُمْ مِنْهُ الضَّلَالَةُ بَعْدَ أَنْ كَانُوا اتَّبِعُوهُ

(تفسیر القرآن العظیم،امام ابن کثیر،۳:۷۲)

“Tafseer Al-Qur’an Al-Azeem” (The Commentary of the Glorious Qur’an). Imam Ibn-e-Katheer. Under 3:72. 

[17]

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْمُنْكَدِرِ، سَمِعْتُ جَابِرًا، قَالَ جَاءَ أَعْرَابِيٌّ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ بَايِعْنِي عَلَى الإِسْلاَمِ‏.‏ فَبَايَعَهُ عَلَى الإِسْلاَمِ، ثُمَّ جَاءَ الْغَدَ مَحْمُومًا فَقَالَ أَقِلْنِي‏.‏ فَأَبَى، فَلَمَّا وَلَّى قَالَ ‏ “‏ الْمَدِينَةُ كَالْكِيرِ، تَنْفِي خَبَثَهَا، وَيَنْصَعُ طِيبُهَا ‏”

(صحیح البخاری، کتاب الاحکام، باب مَنْ نَكَثَ بَيْعَةً، حدیث ۷۲۱۶)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Al-Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Judgements, Chapter: Whoever Violates his Bai’at, Hadith #7216

[18]

دَّثَنَا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ الْمَرْوَزِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بْنُ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ وَاقِدٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ يَزِيدَ النَّحْوِيِّ، عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ كَانَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ سَعْدِ بْنِ أَبِي سَرْحٍ يَكْتُبُ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَأَزَلَّهُ الشَّيْطَانُ فَلَحِقَ بِالْكُفَّارِ فَأَمَرَ بِهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ يُقْتَلَ يَوْمَ الْفَتْحِ فَاسْتَجَارَ لَهُ عُثْمَانُ بْنُ عَفَّانَ فَأَجَارَهُ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏.‏ 

(سنن ابو داود، کتاب الحدود، باب الْحُكْمِ فِيمَنِ ارْتَدَّ، حدیث ۴۳۵۸)

“Sunan Abu Dawud” (The Collection of Abu Dawud). Imam Abu Dawud. The Book of Prescribed Punishments, Chapter: Ruling on one who apostatizes, Hadith # 4358

[19]

حَدَّثَنَا عُثْمَانُ بْنُ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ الْمُفَضَّلِ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا أَسْبَاطُ بْنُ نَصْرٍ، قَالَ زَعَمَ السُّدِّيُّ عَنْ مُصْعَبِ بْنِ سَعْدٍ، عَنْ سَعْدٍ، قَالَ لَمَّا كَانَ يَوْمُ فَتْحِ مَكَّةَ أَمَّنَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم النَّاسَ إِلاَّ أَرْبَعَةَ نَفَرٍ وَامْرَأَتَيْنِ وَسَمَّاهُمْ وَابْنُ أَبِي سَرْحٍ ‏.‏ فَذَكَرَ الْحَدِيثَ قَالَ وَأَمَّا ابْنُ أَبِي سَرْحٍ فَإِنَّهُ اخْتَبَأَ عِنْدَ عُثْمَانَ بْنِ عَفَّانَ فَلَمَّا دَعَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم النَّاسَ إِلَى الْبَيْعَةِ جَاءَ بِهِ حَتَّى أَوْقَفَهُ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ بَايِعْ عَبْدَ اللَّهِ فَرَفَعَ رَأْسَهُ فَنَظَرَ إِلَيْهِ ثَلاَثًا كُلُّ ذَلِكَ يَأْبَى فَبَايَعَهُ بَعْدَ ثَلاَثٍ ثُمَّ أَقْبَلَ عَلَى أَصْحَابِهِ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ أَمَا كَانَ فِيكُمْ رَجُلٌ رَشِيدٌ يَقُومُ إِلَى هَذَا حَيْثُ رَآنِي كَفَفْتُ يَدِي عَنْ بَيْعَتِهِ فَيَقْتُلُهُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ فَقَالُوا مَا نَدْرِي يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ أَلاَ أَوْمَأْتَ إِلَيْنَا بِعَيْنِكَ قَالَ ‏”‏ إِنَّهُ لاَ يَنْبَغِي لِنَبِيٍّ أَنْ تَكُونَ لَهُ خَائِنَةُ الأَعْيُنِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو دَاوُدَ كَانَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ أَخَا عُثْمَانَ مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ وَكَانَ الْوَلِيدُ بْنُ عُقْبَةَ أَخَا عُثْمَانَ لأُمِّهِ وَضَرَبَهُ عُثْمَانُ الْحَدَّ إِذْ شَرِبَ الْخَمْرَ

(سنن ابی داود، کتاب الجھاد، باب قَتْلِ الأَسِيرِ وَلاَ يُعْرَضُ عَلَيْهِ الإِسْلاَمُ، حدیث ۲۶۸۳)

“Sunan Abu Dawud” (The Collection of Abu Dawud). Imam Abu Dawud. The Book of Jihad, Chapter: Chapter: Killing A Captive Without Inviting Him to Islam, Hadith #2683

[20]

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ مُقَاتِلٍ، أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ، أَخْبَرَنِي يُونُسُ، عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي عُرْوَةُ بْنُ الزُّبَيْرِ، أَنَّ امْرَأَةً، سَرَقَتْ فِي عَهْدِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي غَزْوَةِ الْفَتْحِ، فَفَزِعَ قَوْمُهَا إِلَى أُسَامَةَ بْنِ زَيْدٍ يَسْتَشْفِعُونَهُ، قَالَ عُرْوَةُ فَلَمَّا كَلَّمَهُ أُسَامَةُ فِيهَا تَلَوَّنَ وَجْهُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ ‏”‏ أَتُكَلِّمُنِي فِي حَدٍّ مِنْ حُدُودِ اللَّهِ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ أُسَامَةُ اسْتَغْفِرْ لِي يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ‏.‏ فَلَمَّا كَانَ الْعَشِيُّ قَامَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم خَطِيبًا، فَأَثْنَى عَلَى اللَّهِ بِمَا هُوَ أَهْلُهُ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ أَمَّا بَعْدُ، فَإِنَّمَا أَهْلَكَ النَّاسَ قَبْلَكُمْ أَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا إِذَا سَرَقَ فِيهِمُ الشَّرِيفُ تَرَكُوهُ، وَإِذَا سَرَقَ فِيهِمِ الضَّعِيفُ أَقَامُوا عَلَيْهِ الْحَدَّ، وَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ، لَوْ أَنَّ فَاطِمَةَ بِنْتَ مُحَمَّدٍ سَرَقَتْ لَقَطَعْتُ يَدَهَا ‏”‏‏.‏ ثُمَّ أَمَرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِتِلْكَ الْمَرْأَةِ، فَقُطِعَتْ يَدُهَا، فَحَسُنَتْ تَوْبَتُهَا بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ وَتَزَوَّجَتْ‏.‏ قَالَتْ عَائِشَةُ فَكَانَتْ تَأْتِي بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ فَأَرْفَعُ حَاجَتَهَا إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏.‏

(صحیح بخاری، کتاب المغازی، حدیث ۴۳۰۴)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Military Expeditions, Hadith # 4304

[21]

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدَانُ، أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ، أَخْبَرَنَا يُونُسُ، عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ، أَخْبَرَنِي عُرْوَةُ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ قَالَتْ مَا انْتَقَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم لِنَفْسِهِ فِي شَىْءٍ يُؤْتَى إِلَيْهِ حَتَّى تُنْتَهَكَ مِنْ حُرُمَاتِ اللَّهِ فَيَنْتَقِمَ لِلَّ

)صحیح البخاری، کتاب الحدود، باب كَمِ التَّعْزِيرُ وَالأَدَبُ، حدیث ۶۸۵۳(

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of the Limits and Punishments set by Allah (Hudood), Chapter: What punishment may be inflicted on the person so that they may not commit the same sin again, or so that they may learn good manners, Hadith #6853

[22] “Ansaab-ul-Ashraaf” (Genealogies of the Nobles). Ibn-e-Yahya Al-Balazuri. vol.1, pg. 358. 

[23] “Tarikh-e-Tabari” (The History of At-Tabari). Imam Tabari. vol. 3 pg. 60

[24] “Ansaab-ul-Ashraaf” (Genealogies of the Nobles). Ibn-e-Yahya Al-Balazuri. vol.1, pg. 359-360)

[25]

حَدَّثَنَا عُمَرُ بْنُ حَفْصٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبِي، حَدَّثَنَا الأَعْمَشُ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ مُرَّةَ، عَنْ مَسْرُوقٍ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ لاَ يَحِلُّ دَمُ امْرِئٍ مُسْلِمٍ يَشْهَدُ أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَأَنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلاَّ بِإِحْدَى ثَلاَثٍ النَّفْسُ بِالنَّفْسِ وَالثَّيِّبُ الزَّانِي، وَالْمَارِقُ مِنَ الدِّينِ التَّارِكُ الْجَمَاعَةَ ‏”‏‏.

(صحیح البخاری، كتاب الديات، باب قَوْلِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى ‏‏أَنَّ النَّفْسَ بِالنَّفْسِ وَالْعَيْنَ بِالْعَيْنِ وَالأَنْفَ بِالأَنْفِ وَالأُذُنَ بِالأُذُنِ وَالسِّنَّ بِالسِّنِّ وَالْجُرُوحَ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنْ تَصَدَّقَ بِهِ فَهُوَ كَفَّارَةٌ لَهُ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ، حدیث ۶۸۷۸)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Blood Money, Chapter: “Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal”, Hadith #6878

[26]

قُلْتُ فَوَاللَّهِ مَا قَتَلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَطُّ، إِلاَّ فِي إِحْدَى ثَلاَثِ خِصَالٍ رَجُلٌ قَتَلَ بِجَرِيرَةِ نَفْسِهِ فَقُتِلَ، أَوْ رَجُلٌ زَنَى بَعْدَ إِحْصَانٍ، أَوْ رَجُلٌ حَارَبَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَارْتَدَّ عَنِ الإِسْلاَمِ‏

(صحیح البخاری، كتاب الديات، كتاب الديات، باب الْقَسَامَةِ، حدیث ۶۸۹۹)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Blood Money, Chapter on Qasamah, Hadith # 6899

[27]

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ لاَ يَحِلُّ دَمُ امْرِئٍ مُسْلِمٍ إِلاَّ بِإِحْدَى ثَلاَثِ خِصَالٍ زَانٍ مُحْصَنٌ يُرْجَمُ أَوْ رَجُلٌ قَتَلَ رَجُلاً مُتَعَمِّدًا فَيُقْتَلُ أَوْ رَجُلٌ يَخْرُجُ مِنَ الإِسْلاَمِ يُحَارِبُ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَرَسُولَهُ فَيُقْتَلُ أَوْ يُصْلَبُ أَوْ يُنْفَى مِنَ الأَرْضِ ‏”‏ 

(سنن انسائی، كتاب تحريم الدم، باب الصَّلْبِ، حدیث ۴۰۵۳)

“Sunan An-Nasai” (The Collection of An-Nasai). Imam Ahmad An-Nasai. The Book of the Prohibition of Bloodshed, Chapter: Crucifixion, Hadith #4048 

[28]

حَدَّثَنَا مُسَدَّدٌ، حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى، عَنْ قُرَّةَ بْنِ خَالِدٍ، حَدَّثَنِي حُمَيْدُ بْنُ هِلاَلٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو بُرْدَةَ، عَنْ أَبِي مُوسَى، قَالَ أَقْبَلْتُ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَمَعِي رَجُلاَنِ مِنَ الأَشْعَرِيِّينَ، أَحَدُهُمَا عَنْ يَمِينِي، وَالآخَرُ عَنْ يَسَارِي وَرَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَسْتَاكُ فَكِلاَهُمَا سَأَلَ‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ يَا أَبَا مُوسَى ‏”‏‏.‏ أَوْ ‏”‏ يَا عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بْنَ قَيْسٍ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ قُلْتُ وَالَّذِي بَعَثَكَ بِالْحَقِّ مَا أَطْلَعَانِي عَلَى مَا فِي أَنْفُسِهِمَا، وَمَا شَعَرْتُ أَنَّهُمَا يَطْلُبَانِ الْعَمَلَ‏.‏ فَكَأَنِّي أَنْظُرُ إِلَى سِوَاكِهِ تَحْتِ شَفَتِهِ قَلَصَتْ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ لَنْ ـ أَوْ ـ لاَ نَسْتَعْمِلُ عَلَى عَمَلِنَا مَنْ أَرَادَهُ، وَلَكِنِ اذْهَبْ أَنْتَ يَا أَبَا مُوسَى ـ أَوْ يَا عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بْنَ قَيْسٍ ـ إِلَى الْيَمَنِ ‏”‏‏.‏ ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَهُ مُعَاذُ بْنُ جَبَلٍ، فَلَمَّا قَدِمَ عَلَيْهِ أَلْقَى لَهُ وِسَادَةً قَالَ انْزِلْ، وَإِذَا رَجُلٌ عِنْدَهُ مُوثَقٌ‏.‏ قَالَ مَا هَذَا قَالَ كَانَ يَهُودِيًّا فَأَسْلَمَ ثُمَّ تَهَوَّدَ‏.‏ قَالَ اجْلِسْ‏.‏ قَالَ لاَ أَجْلِسُ حَتَّى يُقْتَلَ‏.‏ قَضَاءُ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ‏.‏ ثَلاَثَ مَرَّاتٍ، فَأَمَرَ بِهِ فَقُتِلَ، ثُمَّ تَذَاكَرْنَا قِيَامَ اللَّيْلِ، فَقَالَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَمَّا أَنَا فَأَقُومُ وَأَنَامُ، وَأَرْجُو فِي نَوْمَتِي مَا أَرْجُو فِي قَوْمَتِي‏.‏

(صحیح البخاری، كتاب استتابة المرتدين والمعاندين وقتالهم، باب حُكْمِ الْمُرْتَدِّ وَالْمُرْتَدَّةِ، حدیث ۶۹۲۳)

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Calling for Repentance of the Apostates and Enemies and Fighting Them, Chapter: The Ruling about Apostate Men and Women, Hadith #4923

[29]

حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى، عَنْ مَالِكٍ، عَنْ زَيْدِ بْنِ أَسْلَمَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏”‏ مَنْ غَيَّرَ دِينَهُ فَاضْرِبُوا عُنُقَهُ ‏”

(موطا امام مالک، كتاب الأقضية، حدیث ۱۴۱۹)

“Al-Muwatta”. Imam Malik. The Book of Judgements, Hadith #1419

[30]

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو النُّعْمَانِ، مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْفَضْلِ حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادُ بْنُ زَيْدٍ، عَنْ أَيُّوبَ، عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ، قَالَ أُتِيَ عَلِيٌّ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ بِزَنَادِقَةٍ فَأَحْرَقَهُمْ فَبَلَغَ ذَلِكَ ابْنَ عَبَّاسٍ فَقَالَ لَوْ كُنْتُ أَنَا لَمْ أُحْرِقْهُمْ لِنَهْىِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَلَقَتَلْتُهُمْ لِقَوْلِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِينَهُ فَاقْتُلُوهُ ‏”

صحیح البخاری، كتاب استتابة المرتدين والمعاندين وقتالهم، باب حُكْمِ الْمُرْتَدِّ وَالْمُرْتَدَّةِ

“Sahih Al-Bukhari” (The Collection of Bukhari). Imam Bukhari. The Book of Apostates and Enemies and Fighting them, Chapter: The Decree about the Male and Female Apostate

[31]

وقال مصعب الزبيري: كان عكرمة يرى رأى الخوارج

(ميزان الاعتدال في نقد الرجال، عکرمة مولی ابن عباس، ۵۷۱۶)

“Mizanul Itidal fi Naqdir Rijal” (The Just Standard About the Reality of Men). Shams-ud-Deen Ad-Dahabi. under ‘Ikrama, Maula Ibni Abbas, under 5716.

[32]

عن عبد الله بن الحارث، قال: دخلت على على ابن عبد الله فإذا عكرمة في وثاق عند باب الحش، فقلت له: ألا تتقى الله! فقال: إن هذا الخبيث يكذب على أبي.

(ميزان الاعتدال في نقد الرجال، عکرمة مولی ابن عباس، ۵۷۱۶)

“Mizanul Itidal fi Naqdir Rijal” (The Just Standard About the Reality of Men). Shams-ud-Deen Ad-Dahabi. under ‘Ikrama, Maula Ibni Abbas, under 5716.

[33]

وروى سليمان بن معبد السنجى، قال: مات عكرمة وكثير عزة في يوم، فشهد الناس جنازة كثير، وتركوا جنازة عكرمة. 

(ميزان الاعتدال في نقد الرجال، عکرمة مولی ابن عباس، ۵۷۱۶)

“Mizanul Itidal fi Naqdir Rijal” (The Just Standard About the Reality of Men). Shams-ud-Deen Ad-Dahabi. under ‘Ikrama, Maula Ibni Abbas, under 5716.

[34]

حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامُ بْنُ عَمَّارٍ ثنا عَبْدُ الْمَلِكِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ ثنا زُهَيْرٌ قَالَ: قَالَ لِي هِشَامُ بْنُ عُرْوَةَ: يَا زُهَيْرُ إِذَا حَدَّثَكَ الْعِرَاقِيُّ أَلْفَ حَدِيثٍ فَاطْرَحْ تِسْعَ مِائَةٍ وَتِسْعَةً وَتِسْعِينَ حَدِيثًا وَكُنْ مِنَ الْبَاقِي فِي شَكٍّ. 

(المعرفة والتاريخ، تتمة تراجم الرجال، ما جاء فی الکوفة)

“Al-Marifatu wat-Tareekh”(Understanding and History). Yaqoob Aby Yusuf. Appendix to the biographies of the people. What has been said about the people of Kufah. 

[35]

أَخْبَرَنَا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الْجَبَّارِ الصُّوفِيُّ، قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ مَعِينٍ، قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الصَّمَدِ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْوَارِثِ، قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامٍ، عَنْ قَتَادَةَ عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، عَنِ بن عَبَّاسٍ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قال: “من بدل دينه فاقتلوه”

(صحیح ابن حبان، کتاب الحدود، باب الردة، حدیث ۴۴۷۵)

“Sahih Ibn Hibban” (The Collection of Ibn-e-Hibban). Abu Hatim al Busti. The Book of Legal Punishment, Chapter about Apostasy, Hadith #4475

[36] See “Usudul Ghabah Fi Marifatis Sahabah” (Lion of the Jungle about the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (sa))). Ibn Athir. Under Ibn-e-Abbas.

[37]

والدِّينُ يقال للطاعة والجزاء، واستعير للشريعة، والدِّينُ كالملّة، لكنّه يقال اعتبارا بالطاعة والانقياد للشريعة، قال إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ الْإِسْلامُ [آل عمران/ 19] ، وقال: وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ دِيناً مِمَّنْ أَسْلَمَ وَجْهَهُ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحْسِنٌ [النساء/ 125] ، أي: طاعة 

(المفردات في غريب القرآن، دین)

“Al-Mufradat Fi Gharib-il-Qur’an” (Rare Vocabularies of the Holy Qur’an). Imam Raghib. Under Din.

[38]

قَتَلَ الشَّرابَ : مَزَجَهُ بالماءِ،قتل الجوع/ قتل العطش: أزال ألمَه بطعام أو شراب ، كسر شدَّتَه 

(القاموس المحیط)

“Al-Qamoos al-Muheet”(The Dictionary like an Ocean). Abu Tahir Abadi. Under Qatal.

[39]

قَتَلَ الله فلانًا : دَفَعَ شَرَّهُ 

(معجم المعانی الجامع)

“Al-Mujim Al-Ma’ani Al-Jami” (The Complete Dictionary). Under Qatal.

[40] Hijri refers to the Islamic calendar, which takes as the first year the year of emigration of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) from Mecca to Medina. Hijri means “migration”. 

[41] Nabawi refers to a system of calculation of the events of the prophets life which begins from his first year of prophethood. Nawabi literally means “prophetic”. 

[42] “The History of Al-Tabari”. Transated by Fred M. Donner. Vol. 10: The Conquest of Arabia, pg. 44

[43] Ibid, pg. 41

[44] Ibid, pg. 42-43

[45] Ibid, pg. 44-46

[46] Ibid, pg. 43

[47] Ibid, pg 46-48

[48] Ibid, pg. 49

[49]

أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّزَّاقِ، عَنِ الثَّوْرِيِّ , عَنْ دَاوُدَ , عَنِ الشَّعْبِيِّ , عَنْ أَنَسٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ , قَالَ: بَعَثَنِي أَبُو مُوسَى بِفَتْحِ تُسْتَرَ إِلَى عُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ , فَسَأَلَنِي عُمَرُ – وَكَانَ سِتَّةُ نَفَرٍ مِنْ بَنِي بَكْرِ بْنِ وَائِلٍ قَدِ ارْتَدُّوا عَنِ الْإِسْلَامِ , وَلَحِقُوا بِالْمُشْرِكِينَ – , فَقَالَ: «مَا فَعَلَ النَّفَرُ مِنْ بَكْرِ بْنِ وَائِلٍ؟» قَالَ: فَأَخَذْتُ فِي حَدِيثٍ آخَرَ لِأُشْغِلَهُ عَنْهُمْ , فَقَالَ [ص:166]: «مَا فَعَلَ النَّفَرُ مِنْ بَكْرِ بْنِ وَائِلٍ؟» قُلْتُ: يَا أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ , قَوْمٌ ارْتَدُّوا عَنِ الْإِسْلَامِ , وَلَحِقُوا بِالْمُشْرِكِينَ , مَا سَبِيلُهُمْ إِلَّا الْقَتْلَ , فَقَالَ عُمَرُ: «لَأَنْ أَكُونَ أَخَذْتُهُمْ سِلْمًا , أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا طَلَعَتْ عَلَيْهِ الشَّمْسُ مِنْ صَفْرَاءَ أَوْ بَيْضَاءَ» , قَالَ: قُلْتُ: يَا أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ , وَمَا كُنْتَ صَانِعًا بِهِمْ لَوْ أَخَذْتَهُمْ؟ قَالَ: «كُنْتُ عَارِضًا عَلَيْهِمُ الْبَابَ الَّذِي خَرَجُوا مِنْهُ , أَنْ يَدْخُلُوا فِيهِ , فَإِنْ فَعَلُوا ذَلِكَ , قَبِلْتُ مِنْهُمْ , وَإِلَّا اسْتَوْدَعْتُهُمُ السِّجْنَ»

(مصنف عبد الرزاق،كِتَابُ اللُّقَطَةِ،بَابٌ فِي الْكُفْرِ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ، حدیث ۱۸۶۹۶)

“Musannaf Abdur Razzak”. Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanʽani. The Book of Fallen Items, The Chapter on Disbelief after Belief, Hadith #18696)

[50]

صرف تلواروں سے خونریزی کرنا اور جبر سے کلمہ پڑھانا کوئیہنر کی بات نہیں بلکہ یہ فعل تو ڈاکہ مارنے والوں کے فعلوں سے مشابہ ہے۔ یہ کیسی جہالت ہے جو بعض نادان مسلمانوں کے دِلوں میں متمکن ہے کہ وہ اس بات پر فخر کرتے ہیں کہ اُن کا مسیح موعود اور مہدی معہود جبراً لوگوں کو مسلمان کرے گا اور تلوار سے دین کو پھیلائے گا۔

 یہ لوگ نہیں سوچتے کہ جبر سے کوئی عقیدہ دِل میں داخل نہیں ہوسکتا بلکہ ہر ایک شخص جو ایسے ظالموں کے قابو آجائے اپنے دل میں ان کو نہایت بدانسان سمجھتا ہے گو جان چھڑانے کے لئے اس وقت ہاں میں ہاں ملاوے۔

(تریاق القلوب ، روحانی خزائن، جلد ۱۵، صفحہ ۲۴۵تا ۲۴۶)

“Taryaaq-ul-Quloob” (Cure for the Hearts). Ruhani Khazain (Spiritual Treasures), vol. 15, pg. 245-246

[51]

دیکھو یہ لوگ جو اسلام پر اعتراض کرتے ہیں مثلاً جیسے مصنف امہات المومنین اور عماد الدین اور صفدر علی وغیرہ ان کے مرتد ہونے کا بھی یہی سبب ہے کہ اُس وقت نرمی اورہمدردی سے کام نہیں لیا گیا بلکہ اکثر جگہ تیزی اور سختی دکھلائی گئی اور ملائمت سے ان کے شبہات دور نہیں کئے گئے۔ اس لئے ان لوگوں نے اسلامی فیوض سے محروم رہ کر ارتداد کا جامہ پہن لیا۔ اب اکثر اسلام پر حملہ کرنے والے یہی لوگ ہیں جو قوم کی کم توجہی سے پریشان خاطر ہو کر عیسائی ہوگئے۔ ذرہ آنکھ کھول کر دیکھو کہ یہ لوگ جو بدزبانی دکھلا رہے ہیں یہ کچھ یورپ سے تو نہیں آئے اسی ملک کے مسلمانوں کی اولاد ہیں جو اسلام سے انقطاع کرتے کرتے اور عیسائیوں کے کلمات سے متاثر ہوتے ہوتے اس حد تک پہنچ گئے ہیں۔ درحقیقت ایسے لاکھوں انسان ہیں جن کے دل خراب ہو رہے ہیں۔ ہزار ہا طبیعتیں ہیں جو بُری طرح بگڑ گئی ہیں۔ سو بڑا امر اور عظیم الشان امر جو ہمیں کرنا چاہیئےوہ یہی ہے کہ ہم نظر اٹھا کر دیکھیں کہ ملک مجذوموں کی طرح ہوتا جاتا ہے اور شبہات کے زہریلے پودے بے شمار سینوں میں نشوونما پاگئے ہیں اور پاتے جاتے ہیں۔ خداتعالیٰ ہمیں تمام قرآن شریف میں یہی ترغیب دیتا ہے کہ ہم دین اسلام کی حقیقی حمایت کریں اور ہمارا فرض ہونا چاہیئے   کہ مخالفوں کی طرف سے ایک بھی ایسا اعتراض پیدا نہ ہو جس کا ہم کمال تحقیق اور تنقیح سے جواب دے کر حق کے طالبوں کی پوری تسلی اور تشفی نہ کریں۔ 

(البلاغ فریاد درد ، روحانی خزائن، جلد۱۳، صفحہ ۳۷۹)

“Al-Balaagh/Faryaad-e-Dard”(The Message/A Painful Request). Ruhani Khazain (Spiritual Treasures), vol. 13, pg. 379

[52] Al-Balaagh/Faryaad-e-Dard(The Message/A Painful Request).Ruhani Khazain (Spiritual Treasures), vol. 13, pg. 393

[52] “Raz-e-Haqiqat”(A Hidden Truth). Ruhani Khazain (Spiritual Treasures), vol. 14, pg. 160

[54] “Haqiqatul Wahi”(The Truth about Revelation). Ruhani Khazain (Spiritual Treasures), vol. 22, pg. 127